The shortage of nurses in the United States and in many parts of the world continues to cause issues in many sectors of the healthcare industry. The problem is further amplified as the pandemic accelerated the demand for nurses. As such, there is an increasing need for the most affordable online nursing programs in order to train enough healthcare professionals.
Based on a survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses earn over $75,000 on average per year (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021a). Additionally, advanced practice registered nurses earn an average of $117,000 per year (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021b). This makes the nursing profession one of the best college majors to pursue.
Typically, an online bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is a degree-completion program. Aspiring nurses must have either an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing. Additionally, most universities and colleges offer R.N. to BSN programs specifically designed for working nurses. This guide explores the most affordable online nursing programs as well as the expected cost of attending nursing schools.
While attending nursing school is undoubtedly an investment in one’s future that will more than pay for itself, financing education to become a nurse may be challenging.
The cost of nursing school varies widely, ranging from a few thousand dollars for an associate’s degree to upwards of $80,000 or even $100,000 for a bachelor’s or master’s degree program. Tuition fees vary significantly depending on the type of institution —for example, whether one attends a private school or a community college—and the type of program.
Tuition is calculated on a credit basis, and ADN programs generally need 60 credits of instruction. Additionally, per credit rates depend on a number of factors. For instance, in-state students are often subsidized, which means they pay lower fees than out-of-state students.
Nursing applicants must also pay for lab and technology fees, scrubs, insurance, and vaccines in addition to tuition. Students taking traditional, in-person programs also need to pay for room and board.
Due to the short duration of associate degrees in nursing (ADN)—typically lasting about two years—these programs are often the most economical. At public colleges, students may pay between $3,000 and $15,000 each year, or between $6,000 and $30,000 for the whole degree.
For example, the University of Charleston in West Virginia offers an ADN program costing $380 per credit hour or close to $23,000 for the full two-year program (University of Charleston, 2021).
On the other hand, how much does a private nursing school cost? Private universities often charge higher tuition rates. Students may need to invest around $35,000 and up for their ADN.
Students may anticipate total tuition fees of at least $40,000 for a standard four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program. Tuition might cost up to $80,000 or even more. BSN degrees generally need 120 credits and are charged on a per-credit basis by schools and institutions.
Nonetheless, some public colleges offer more modest tuition, scholarships, and other forms of financial help, as well as reduced tuition rates for military members and veterans. Certain states provide specialized financial assistance programs to nursing students.
Additionally, schools may offer discounted tuition to high school graduates with good GPAs or dual credit. Students enrolled in online RN-to-BSN programs must complete only two years of school, which significantly reduces tuition costs.
While master of science in nursing (MSN) programs typically run between one and two years, tuition is not always less than for a four-year bachelor’s degree. The overall cost of an MSN program varies but is normally between $35,000 and $70,000, with other colleges charging upwards of $100,000. Similarly, doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs are around the same price range, about $40,000 to $80,000.
Online advanced degree programs are much more affordable than their traditional counterparts. Some online master of science in nursing programs may cost as low as $10,000 for a 30- to 40-credit degree.
Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, America’s healthcare sector has been in the spotlight. Additionally, this emphasis has drawn attention to the nurse shortage, which began in 2012 and is predicted to endure until 2030.
Numerous reasons contribute to the shortage, including increased demand for healthcare across the country. As the largest group in America–the baby boomers—ages, the healthcare system will face unprecedented demand, with over a million more nurses required by 2030.
As a result, nursing is becoming an attractive profession for many high school graduates. On top of that, online nursing schools are rapidly improving, which makes them a viable, economical option for those taking the path to become a nurse.
Below are the best online nursing programs in the country:
Tallahassee Community College provides academic and workforce paths for registered nurses to advance to higher-level jobs, including admission into leadership and management positions. Additionally, a BSN provides an academic foundation to masters and doctorate nursing schools. It is targeted at registered nurses who are presently licensed and have earned an Associate in Science degree in Nursing (ADN). The curriculum complements the ADN’s academics and clinical experiences, ensuring a smooth and efficient transition for BSN students.
Florida SouthWestern State College offers a bachelor-level program to Registered Nurses with a diploma or Associate of Science Degree in Nursing. Coursework will focus on building on the foundations laid by the registered nursing program. The R.N. to BSN program requires students to complete courses in professional topics, informatics, research, pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, multicultural nursing, pharmacology, leadership, and community health, as well as a capstone project. Courses are offered online to suit students with a variety of schedules.
Broward College’s RN-BSN program is available in hybrid (in-person and online) and purely remote format. This 123-credit-hour curriculum uses lower-division Associate of Arts (A.A.) and Associate of Science (AS) coursework as the basis for the bachelor’s degree. The upper-division nursing curriculum is meant to prepare professional nurses to utilize cutting-edge technology, knowledge, and skills to be effective in today’s interdisciplinary setting, as well as to develop creative leaders to promote quality healthcare in a complex, highly globalized healthcare environment.
Georgia Southwestern State University offers a flexible online RN-BSN program to students who have already finished their diploma or associate degree in nursing. Most students in the program finish their coursework within one to two years. However, students can choose to finish in three years, with others given up to five years under special circumstances. Each student will develop their individual model plan of study with their professional nursing advisor.
University of Central Florida’s online BSN is open to students who are in the Florida College System Concurrent ASN to BSN degree completion program and learners who are currently registered nurses. Coursework involves topics such as pathophysiology, nursing research, health assessment, and more. It readies students for advanced degrees, leadership positions, and management responsibilities.
Source: Journal of Nursing Regulations, 2021
Columbus State University’s RN to BSN Online Program is created for registered nurses so they can efficiently and conveniently earn a bachelor’s degree while practicing their profession. All classes are asynchronous and facilitated by qualified faculty members with varying nursing backgrounds. The program is approved by the Georgia Board of Nursing and accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Cleveland State University offers an R.N. to BSN program in both online and blended learning formats. It builds on prerequisite coursework as well as the professional experience of licensed nurses. Students have the opportunity to study a wide variety of topics, from clinical data analytics to palliative care.
Appalachian State University’s part-time online RN-to-BSN degree program provides working nurses with a flexible and affordable path to BSN. It includes topics such as nursing leadership, health assessment, and informatics. It also aims to strengthen nursing research and practical skills. Along with classes, learners will have to complete research work and class projects.
Florida International University provides an R.N. to BSN Online Track in its Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. It aims to prepare healthcare professionals to become leaders and experts in their fields. The program is rooted in care and wellness across cultures, community health, and nursing leadership. It also includes classes in evidence-based learning, nursing global healthcare systems, and nursing research
McNeese State University’s RN to BSN program was specifically designed for working nurses from both partner and non-partner healthcare institutions. Its curriculum is based on community health and evidence-based practice. Students will learn about various topics such as informatics, patient care technology, the business of nursing, and more.
The RN to BSN program at Fort Hays State University offers flexible options for nurses to complete their BSN in as fast as three semesters. It combines general coursework with advanced nursing classes, which cover healthcare policy, health promotion, leadership, and management. Students can enter the program at any semester.
The University of Texas at El Paso provides a comprehensive online nursing program grounded on nursing theories, humanities, arts, and sciences. It also focuses on the application of knowledge based on scientific inquiry as well as patient care technology. Coursework also includes evidence-based practice and research, education, and leadership.
The University of West Florida’s accelerated R.N. to BSN online program aims to build a nurses’ knowledge for specialized and advanced roles. The CCNE-accredited program covers a wide range of coursework such as nursing research, pharmacology principles, nursing mediations, legal concepts in nursing, ethical concepts, and more. Aside from online classes, students will attend clinical hours in approved practice institutions and facilities typically located within their local communities.
The University of Louisiana at Monroe offers an accelerated R.N. to BSN program to students who want to advance their skills and experience. It prepares learners for specialized nursing roles as well as graduate studies. Coursework involves a wide range of topics such as basic pharmacological principles, information management systems, and more.
Southern Utah University’s online RN to BSN program prepares students for opportunities to provide high-quality, evidence-based health and patient care to culturally diverse patients. The program includes personalized learning experiences covering a wide array of topics that prepares learners to become public health nurses, travel nurses, correctional nurses, nursing research assistants, and more.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020
The University of South Carolina-Aiken’s R.N. to BSN program helps nursing practitioners combine liberal arts foundations with real-world applications. It includes courses in the principles of ethical theory, the legal basis of nursing, physical and psychosocial assessment, and human development theories.
Texas A&M International University’s R.N. to BSN program provides a faster and economical path to a variety of nursing professions. The ACEN-accredited program covers nursing history, research, global health, community nursing, and more. Students will also participate in practical training totaling 126 hours.
The RN to B.S. in Nursing program at Fitchburg State University is accredited by the CCNE and is designed to equip professional nurses to address societal healthcare demands in a range of settings. Additionally, it establishes a foundation of legal, ethical, and professional principles that foster an appreciation for diversity and social responsibility, as well as a dedication to holistic nursing practice quality.
Southeast Missouri State University provides an online RN-to-BSN program to nurses who want to pursue advanced training. It includes courses in community health, nursing research, management, and leadership. Students will also experience training in holistic assessment as well as hands-on learning through required fieldwork.
The University of Texas of the Permian Basin offers a CCNE-accredited RN to BSN program, which prepares practicing nurses for decision-making and leadership roles. The program is based on patient-centered care, evidence-based practice, and multicultural patient care. Students will learn about various advanced nursing topics such as clinical leadership, transcultural nursing, issues and theories in professional nursing, and more.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020
Metropolitan State University offers RN to BSN programs in two cohort progression models: hybrid and online. Both are designed to provide flexibility to working students. MSU’s BSN program is also endorsed by the American Holistic Nursing Credentialing Corporation. Similarly, graduates of the program qualify for Public Health Nursing Registration within the State of Minnesota.
Clayton State University’s R.N. to BSN Completion Track provides registered nurses with ADN to upgrade their academic careers. The online nursing program can be taken via full-time or part-time progressions. Students will take core curriculum courses, lower-division major requirements, a transition subject, and major nursing requirements.
The RN-to-BSN program of the University of Louisville prepares its students to work in diverse global populations with an emphasis on developing management and leadership skills. It includes courses in evidence-based practice, health policy, community health nursing, pathophysiology, pharmacotherapeutics, and much more.
Georgia Southern University’s RN-BSN participates in the Georgia RN-BSN Articulation Model designed for registered nurses. On top of their credited foundational courses, students will cover a variety of courses, such as health assessment, community health, leadership, and more. It incorporates the Program Outcomes, which is similar to the pre-licensure program with modifications to fit online education.
Southeastern University aims to offer those currently practicing in healthcare an opportunity to advance their careers. Its R.N. to BSN program is rooted in Christian values with the goal of enhancing nursing practice and education. Students have the opportunity to learn about patient safety, clinical prevention, patient care technology, and more.
American Sentinel University offers two types of online BSN programs: traditional and self-paced by SIMPath®. The former is designed for working nurses who prefer a structured-yet-flexible program with guidance from program advisors and instructions. The latter is self-paced, involving immersive virtual simulations. Students in R.N. to BSN, Powered by SIMPath® program, have more flexibility in terms of choosing the number of coursework per period.
Fayetteville State University’s online program provides registered nurses with the management and leadership skills to advance their careers. It includes coursework in various areas, such as emergency care, evidence-based practices, current trends in nursing, health assessment, community care, and more. The program typically starts in spring and in autumn.
Ohio State University-Main Campus offers an online RN-to-BSN program that readies students for leadership roles in healthcare organizations. It trains nurses to build and establish strong patient care systems. Coursework includes community health nursing, informatics, and other advanced topics on top of foundational classes.
East Tennessee State University’s CCNE-accredited RN-BSN program is designed for registered nurses with hospital certificates or associate degrees. The coursework covers professional nursing practice, health assessment, public health, health promotion, and informatics. It also provides training for nursing leadership and management.
Registered nurses who have earned their ADN have the opportunity to complete a BSN through the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s MyWay competency-based education program. Once a student proves competency and mastery of an assessment, they are free to move on to the next coursework. Students will have access to a team of personal support systems composed of faculty members and success coaches.
Source: University of St. Augustine
While nursing education does involve some in-person attendance for practicum and other hands-on training, many schools and institutions are also utilizing remote teaching to reach a broad student base through online nursing programs. Aspiring nursing students who prefer working from home and are self-starters frequently flourish in these online programs.
Just like many fields, nursing schools are undergoing rapid changes, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to research by Fawaz, Hamdan-Mansour, and Tassi, published in the International Journal of Africa Nursing Sciences, “Nursing education is facing various challenges locally and globally, as well as it is exhibiting multiple facets of reformation.
“From aligning nursing education with the practice settings to incorporating nursing as an integral part of the health workforce, to adequately preparing nursing educators and providing them with proper development opportunities, to dealing with technological, economical and ethnic challenges, nursing educators are entitled to recognize and deal with the obstacles that come with the 21st century, in order to maintain a high quality of nursing graduates, quality of care as well as safeguard patient safety and satisfaction,” they added (Fawaz et al., 2018).
Online nursing programs use synchronous and asynchronous delivery methods in their remote classes. Synchronous learning takes place in real-time via a live feed or another channel that involves students participating in classes at designated times. On the other side, asynchronous classrooms contain course materials that students can access on their own schedule.
As a result, asynchronous classes provide greater flexibility to students with demanding schedules while requiring far less engagement with other students and lecturers. Synchronous nursing courses replicate the experience of a regular classroom, with a greater amount of interaction between participants.
Distance learners often have the same access to resources as on-campus students. Schools often offer accessible remote options such as personal consulting, academic advice, and tutoring programs. Students may also have access to extra materials designed specifically for online education, depending on how involved a school is in its elearning.
Most university and college libraries offer digital materials such as ebooks, audio clips, and videos. They also provide access to academic databases where online students can access journals, papers, and similar content.
Typically, online nursing schools students must complete some clinical training on-site. Remote learners often commute to an approved facility, such as a local hospital or clinic, in order to complete the required number of clinical hours for the degree. Online nursing schools may offer virtual clinical training, particularly in light of current COVID-19 issues. Consult faculty members at potential institutions to learn more about the clinical training choices, including in-person and virtual clinical training.
The process of locating a clinical location differs for pre-and post-licensure nursing students. Schools often choose clinical sites to pre-licensure students or assist them in locating appropriate sites.
Students pursuing prelicensure often do not have to worry about securing clinical rotations. Schools either handle this for the students or carefully supervise them. On the other hand, post-licensure students must consider their clinical assignments. Prior to beginning their program, a post-licensure student should start seeking a training facility.
Due to these innovations, student enrollment in nursing programs continues to rise even with challenges due to the pandemic. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported that there has been an increase of 5.6% in enrollment for new students at the baccalaureate levels. And, experts expect the number to rise in the following years (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2021).
Prior to pursuing this professional route, thoroughly examine the education costs, possible earnings, and financial return. While many industries are becoming increasingly precarious, the healthcare market remains critical and in high demand.
The nursing profession, in particular, continues to increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates a 9% rise in registered nurse (R.N.) employment between 2020 and 2030 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021a). Additionally, the BLS projects that the employment of advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists, will increase by 45% during the same time (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021b).
Just like any pursuit of higher education, even the most affordable online nursing programs can still cost a lot of money for many students. As such, many take advantage of financial aid options that can help lower their student debts.
Around 70% of nursing students take loans to finance their education. According to statistics gathered by NerdWallet, BSN graduates have average student debts of $23,711 (Lane, 2021). While this may appear to be a large sum, it is far less than the average student loans for all college graduates in the United States, which had a total of about $30,000 in 2019.
However, with an average salary of about $75,000 per year (Lane, 2021), nursing is considered one of the college majors with a relatively good return on investment. With the rising demand for nurses, graduates will not have to worry about intense competition and job opportunities.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor StatisticsDesigned by
According to LinkedIn, nursing is still one of the most in-demand jobs next to salespeople and programmers (Lewis, 2021). And, with many of the baby boomers retiring as well as the continuous pressure of COVID-19 on the healthcare industry, nurses are needed not only in the frontlines but in practically all aspects of the medical sector.
Fortunately, innovations in education and technology have made it possible for colleges and universities to offer programs through remote learning. The flexibility of this delivery format allows students and working professionals alike to pursue nursing studies at their convenience. And, without the additional costs of accommodation and other fees associated with living on-campus, students can reduce their student loans and expenses, making nursing a worthwhile career path.