With technologies like online education, nurses looking to advance their careers can achieve a higher degree without breaking the bank. Many universities and colleges in the United States now offer affordable online master’s of science in nursing (MSN) programs. Through these low-cost graduate programs, nurses can earn the educational credentials needed for specialized roles like those of nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners without breaking the bank.
This article puts the spotlight on the most affordable online master of science in nursing programs in the U.S. today. We’ll also discuss what students can expect from these online MSN programs, including tuition costs and a long list of courses. With all this information, you can easily figure out which MSN programs and affordable schools best fit your needs.
Yes, an online master’s degree is just as good as an on-campus master’s degree. For most universities and colleges, online and on-campus MSN programs share the same curriculum. This is especially true if the online degree is provided by an accredited institution with a well-known reputation where some of the important women in science also got their degrees.
Typically granted to nonprofit, degree-granting institutions, regional accreditation indicates that a school has met strict standards for student learning outcomes, academic rigor, and faculty quality (The Best Schools, 2020). By choosing regionally accredited institutions, you can rest assured that you’re getting high-quality online education even on a budget.
Accredited MSN programs also offer another benefit to nursing students who want to lower educational costs. To be eligible for financial aid, students must be enrolled in an institution accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.).
When it comes to employer perceptions, the degree-granting institution’s reputation also matters. A 2018 study, Education Credentials Come of Age, found that while 61% of HR leaders believe that online and traditional credentials are of the same quality, 58% of the same leaders believed that an institution’s brand has the biggest impact on the value of an educational credential.
These numbers highlight the importance of choosing an institution with a well-known brand and reputation. A degree from such institutions may be perceived to be more valuable by employers and can help students sooner enjoy a return on investment on their degree.
Though online and traditional MSN programs offer the same curricula, there are some differences between pursuing on-campus degrees and online degree courses in nursing. The sections below discuss the learning methods, courses, and costs associated with getting an MSN online.
Like online certificate programs in medical office administration, many online MSN programs are available in fully online or blended learning formats, with the latter requiring students to do some on-campus visits for discussions or laboratory work (MastersInNursing.com, n.d.). In both formats, nursing students participate in some form of asynchronous learning.
In asynchronous learning environments, there are no set class schedules and students are allowed to access course materials on their own time. Lectures are often recorded and uploaded to a web-based platform to ensure accessibility. In some cases, these web-based platforms also provide features that facilitate communication with peers and instructors (Sam, 2020).
The flexibility and self-paced nature of online MSN programs make these an ideal option for individuals who plan to juggle between their careers and studies, especially if they plan to get dual degrees.
In addition to the adjustments caused by the shift to online education, nursing education is continuously improved and refined to ensure more efficient learning. Many studies have looked into the effectiveness of learning methodologies as applied to educating future nurses.
For instance, Choi et al. (2020) recently published an article exploring the effects of a simulation-based communication education (ComEd) program on nursing students’ skills. Published in Nurse Education Today in 2020 and titled “Efficacy of the computer simulation-based, interactive communication education program for nursing students,” the study surveyed South Korean nursing students who received the ComEd program, which involved virtual patients, interactive, simulated clinical scenarios, and videos demonstrating proper communication skills.
According to Choi et al., “The present study demonstrated that the ComEd program … significantly improved communication knowledge, learning self-efficacy, and communication efficacy among nursing students, and the effects of the program were maintained for two weeks. Both the quantitative and qualitative findings of the study confirmed that the participants experienced cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes along with improved self-efficacy. The findings of this study also showed that participants were highly engaged and satisfied with this new mode of learning.”
Like many master’s degrees today, many master’s online degree programs in nursing offer a wide variety of specializations. Concentrations commonly offered in MSN programs include nursing education, nursing informatics, and public health nursing. For instance, Capella University offers four specializations in its MSN programs: MSN in Care Coordination, MSN in Nursing Education, MSN in Nursing Informatics, and MSN in Nursing Leadership and Administration (Capella University, n.d.).
Courses included in online MSN programs usually depend on the concentration or specialization chosen by a student. However, the core curriculum for online master’s in nursing programs typically explores advanced courses in medical fields, such as pharmacology and pathophysiology as well as contemporary topics like global health and healthcare improvement (OnlineU, n.d.).
As expected of the most affordable online master of science in nursing programs, these online programs often have lower costs compared to traditional degree programs. The lower costs are mostly due to the fact that online students don’t need to pay for room and board. According to college education experts, room and board at four-year institutions can cost anywhere from $10,200 to $11,900 annually.
The lower costs of an online master’s degree of science in nursing can also help students enjoy a higher return on investment in their degree. It’s also worthwhile to consider that nurses with an MSN tend to earn more than nurses with bachelor’s nursing degrees. According to May 2021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners have an annual median wage of $ 118,040, an amount considerably higher than the $77,600 median annual wage of registered nurses.
Source: Georgetown University
The following colleges and universities have the lowest per-credit tuition costs for an online master’s of science in nursing program. The tuition costs indicated were gathered from information on each institution’s website. Unless otherwise stated, these costs are also applicable for in-state and out-of-state students.
Georgia Southern University offers an online MSN program with two specializations: MSN in Chronic Care Management and MSN in Nursing Education. Each of these concentration programs requires 36 credit hours for completion and takes about two years to complete. The university’s nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
A Title IV school, Northeastern State University traces its roots to the Cherokee National Female Seminary, established in 1846. This history makes NSU the oldest institution of higher learning in Oklahoma.
Online MSN programs at Northeastern State University include an MSN in Nursing Education, an MSN in Administrative Leadership in Nursing, and an MSN in Nursing Informatics. These programs are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.
Pittsburg State University offers a Master of Science in Nursing with an Emphasis in Education, which includes education core courses, such as Curriculum Development, Applied Drug Therapy, and Teaching Strategies. With this degree, students become eligible to take the Nurse Educator Certification Program. The university’s MSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Founded in 1854, Central Methodist University offers two concentrations in its online MSN program: an MSN, Clinical Nurse Leader Program and an MSN, Nurse Educator Program. These two specializations share a core curriculum, which includes courses such as Advanced Health Assessment, Evidence-Based Practice, and Advanced Pathophysiology. The university’s MSN programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Based in Massachusetts, Fitchburg State University currently offers an online MS in Nursing, with a focus on Forensic Nursing. Aside from core nursing courses, students are expected to complete courses such as Scientific Foundations for Forensic Nursing Interventions along with a practicum in Forensic Nursing. This MSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, New Mexico State University is a public university located in the city of Las Cruces. The university currently offers an online MSN program that can be pursued on a part-time or full-time basis. The program is mostly focused on nursing leadership and administration and offers courses such as Innovations and Healthcare Organization and Advanced Leadership in Healthcare.
Part of the Purdue University system, Purdue University Global offers six pathways in its online MSN program: Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (80 credits), Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (90 credits), Family Nurse Practitioner, Primary Care (90 credits), Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (78 credits), Executive Leader (60 credits), and Nurse Educator (60 credits). The university’s MSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Located in Mississippi, William Carey University is a private liberal arts college offering an online master’s of science in nursing degree with a nurse educator concentration. Aside from a core curriculum of 35 credit hours, students can take elective courses, such as Healthcare Economics and Finance and Healthcare Simulation for Nurse Educators. The university’s nursing school is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Galen College of Nursing is a private school focused on providing nursing education, established in 1990. The school currently offers two track options for its MSN program: Nursing and Healthcare Leadership and Nurse Educator. These programs require 36 degrees each for completion. The school’s MSN program is also accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.
As the digital degree-granting arm of Arizona State University (ASU), ASU Online offers an online master’s of science in nursing program. Accredited by the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education, the program is focused on providing students with advanced skills in evidence-based practice and healthcare leadership.
There are various factors that can drive the costs of an otherwise affordable online master’s of science in nursing program. For instance, online students have to pay for course materials, such as books and supplies, which can cost up to $1,334 annually at public four-year institutions (Hanson, 2021). The costs of maintaining a stable Internet connection and a fully functional computer also factor into an online student’s total expenses.
In addition to these costs, it’s best to keep in mind that many schools charge various fees on top of tuition. Arizona State University Online, for instance, charges a program fee and a technology fee (ASU Online, n.d.). Other universities also charge technology fees, course delivery fees, and one-time orientation fees.
Admission requirements to these affordable online MSN programs typically vary depending on the institution. However, as an advanced nursing degree, most master’s of science in nursing degrees require applicants to have a bachelor’s of science (BS) degree in nursing from a regionally accredited school or a nationally-accredited nursing program.
Most universities also require applicants to have a current, unencumbered RN license. In the nursing industry, an unencumbered license means that a nurse “has a full and unrestricted license to practice by the state board of nursing” (Nursys.com, n.d.). Some of these institutions also require applicants to have clinical nursing experience.
In addition to a BS in Nursing degree and a current, unencumbered RN license, the following are common requirements for an online MSN degree:
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
Online master’s of science degrees in nursing can be expensive, but there are numerous schools that offer these degree programs at relatively lower costs. To get the most value out of the most affordable online master of science in nursing programs, it’s best to pursue an MSN program that best aligns with your learning requirements and career goals.
The good news is that you have a wide variety of online master’s of science in nursing programs to choose from. Whether you want to specialize as a nurse educator or a family nurse practitioner, you’re likely to find an online MSN program that will help you achieve these goals.
If you’re interested in learning more about advanced degrees in healthcare, you can check our guide on online doctorate degrees in public health.