By BVS Staff
What makes an online RN program worth attending? And what exactly is an online RN program, anyway? It's important to clear up some of these basic questions at the outset, because nursing degrees are a little different from your average bachelor's in history or math.
Because of the demand for qualified nurses and the difficult, technically-detailed curriculum that nursing students must endure, many schools offer courses in an unusual – but efficient – sequence. Basically, this means that you could take two years of college courses, earn an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) and already have enough training to qualify to take the NCLEX-RN exam. This is the all-important test that aspiring nurses must pass in order to apply for jobs as a registered nurse (RN). But the only way for schools to provide all the knowledge you need in a short two-year span is by front-loading the curriculum. In other words, these students take many of their major-specific, skills-based nursing classes at the beginning of their degree, skipping several of the B.S.-mandated general education requirements in the process.
This might sound like a great deal, but even full-fledged registered nurses are selling themselves – and their salaries – short if they stop short of a bachelor's degree. Fortunately, there are multiple pathways you can take to earn a four-year bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN). You can take the "traditional" route and knock out all your studies in one shot; you can earn your RN first, work for a year or two, and then take your remaining courses online through an RN-to-BSN conversion program; or you can take lower-level classes at a community college and then transfer to a typical "degree completion" program to earn your remaining credits (and qualify for an RN along the way).
While the options might seem overwhelming, the flexibility of the online registered nurse degree affords a great benefit to working adults and nontraditional students. And in all transparency, the vast majority of online RN programs are really RN-BSN transition courses. This track typically features a mix of general education and advanced nursing coursework and (usually) requires participation in a practicum experience, which students are often allowed to complete locally at an approved clinical site. This additional knowledge, along with an official BSN designation, can do wonders for your performance – and your promotion potential – in an already challenging workforce.
Low-Cost Online RN Program Ranking Methodology
So, let's get down to brass tacks: how did we narrow our original list of hundreds of online RN degrees to a slim top 30?
First, we searched on College Navigator for all of the colleges that offer distance education bachelor's programs in the field of registered nursing. Total results: approximately 330.
Second, we searched the directory on the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) website to find all the CCNE-accredited bachelor's degree programs. Total results: over 600!
Next, we cross-referenced this list to find duplicates – that is, to pinpoint the subset of schools on each list with RN programs that are both accredited and online-accessible. Total results: nearly 150.
With this smaller subset of degree programs in hand, we set to work ranking the best of the best by looking at two factors:
- Accreditation tenure: This represents the length of time that a college's RN degree has been accredited by the CCNE. To successfully maintain their accreditation status year after year, programs must constantly review their academic standards, teaching methods, the content of their curriculum, and the success of their students to ensure that the knowledge they impart is relevant, accurate, and useful. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect the schools that have achieved this impressive feat – and some programs boast continuous accreditation spanning nearly two decades – to provide a superior academic experience.
- Tuition: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Cost is a crucial factor in the college decision-making process for a many students – not to mention an essential consideration on any ranking of "low cost" degrees! We acquired annual tuition rates (including estimated annual fees) from College Navigator and assigned points to each school based on their affordability. For public universities, we used an average of in-state and out-of-state rates in order to streamline the ranking process.
Both of the above categories received equal weight in our ranking. In the end, each program received a final score based on its performance in each area. We scaled all the totals so that the highest-scoring college earned a maximum possible 100 points. The results are printed below, complete with links to the program pages and brief descriptions of all that these top low-cost online RN programs have to offer.
30. Oakland University
Rochester Hills, MI
Online BSN Degree Completion
Oakland University's accredited online BSN degree is one of the most convenient options available for both registered and aspiring nurses alike. Its comprehensive nursing curriculum spans informatics; community and public health; research; leadership, and more to prepare students for the diverse roles available to BSN graduates in hospitals, clinics, and businesses around the country. And since Oakland waives all prerequisite non-nursing courses for students who are able to present a valid RN license, this 100% online program serves as a highly convenient, accelerated option for working professionals.
29. Morehead State University
Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Post-Licensure)
Unlike Oakland, the online BSN program at Morehead State University caters exclusively to the needs of registered nurses currently working in the field. Offered in an 8-week modular format, the courses in this program are designed to optimize the time, resources, and attention span of those who already maintain a full-time employment schedule. But the advantages at Morehead don't end with flexible scheduling and optimized course loads; the nursing department's faculty advisement and career support center all but guarantee the success of students earning this accelerated online registered nurse degree.
28. Pittsburg State University
Online RN to BSN
Pittsburg State University offers another highly accelerated RN to BSN online program that can be completed in a single year of full-time study. While this is only possible for registered nurses who have completed the full general education requirements and lower-level nursing prerequisites (e.g., ADNs or those with a bachelor's degree in a related major), it hardly diminishes the appeal of a yearlong bachelor's degree program that takes place entirely via distance education (hybrid options are also available for all courses). But for all of its time-saving measures, Pittsburg's nursing program is also notable for its commitment to hands-on training through required practicums at local clinics.
27. Mercy College of Health Sciences
Des Moines, IA
Online RN to BSN
With degree completion possible in as little as three semesters, the accelerated online BSN degree program at Mercy College of Health Sciences may just be one of the fastest ways for working nurses to qualify themselves for a higher standard of care and professionalism. But Mercy's highly personalized degree plan doesn't mean you have to rush; students can earn their degree either part- or full-time to accommodate their own goals and scheduling needs. Mercy students can also select from three unique "specialty seminars" to tailor their education to their specific interests.
26. Illinois State University
Online RN to BSN
Boasting top rankings for quality and affordability from US News and the Washington Post, Illinois State University is widely recognized as an educational leader in a wide range of academic and professional disciplines. And with a nursing department that is nearly a hundred years old, you can be sure that this level of excellence extends to their RN to BSN programs. In fact, over the last 14 years, Illinois State University has perfected the online delivery of their top online nursing degree, even developing a "Pathway Program" to seamlessly transition ADN graduates from four local community colleges.
25. Old Dominion University
Online Nursing RN to BSN
With an accreditation from the CCNE that dates back to 1999, Old Dominion University has long been a mainstay in the world of undergraduate nursing. But ODU's distance education program is even older; it's been serving RNs since 1987! Today, it's easier that ever for working students to take advantage of this educational opportunity through ODU's completely online RN program. Unfortunately, this program is not available to residents of Washington state, but, there's no reason why RNs from anywhere else in the country shouldn't look to ODU for the next step in their nursing career.
24. Ohio University
Online RN to BSN Program
Ohio University is no stranger to top RN to BSN online program rankings: as recently as 2015, Best College Reviews listed them as the fifth best in the country in terms of price, convenience, and quality. While Ohio may not have reached the same level on this list, it still stands to reason that their nursing program is best in class. For one thing, Ohio boasts the one of the highest enrollments of any such program in the country, with more than 5,000 students in attendance from states spread coast to coast.
23. Ohio State University
Online RN to BSN Option
Ohio State University may not share the enormous enrollment volume of its similarly named companions Ohio U and Cleveland State, but that's hardly a knock against them. Since Ohio State only accepts students who have already earned an associate's degree in nursing, the program's selection pool is considerably smaller. Nevertheless, Ohio State's numerous articulation agreements with local junior, community, and technical colleges make it possible for students earning ADNs at these schools to transition seamlessly to an accelerated online nursing degree program at one of the top schools in the Midwest.
22. Mercy College of Ohio
Online RN-BSN Nursing Program
With 100% graduate employment, 88% graduate satisfaction, and over 50% cohort completion between 2011 and 2014, Mercy College of Ohio lays claim to some of the most promising graduate outcome statistics of any low-cost online BSN degree. While much of that success (especially the employment numbers) are attributable to the growing demand for highly credentialed nurses both nationwide and in Ohio, the statistics nonetheless speak loudly to the strengths of Mercy's CCNE-accredited nursing department. And with professionally experienced faculty, a comprehensive curriculum, and fully online coursework, this is one program that leaves little room for weakness.
21. Northwest Florida State College
Online RN to BSN Degree Program
Northwest Florida State College also offers competitive opportunities for registered nurses to not only stay relevant, but advance headlong into the future of their own careers. Through a combination of online coursework and guided hands-on clinical practicum requirements (which students can complete at approved centers throughout the state), NSFU has established itself as an indispensable resource for working nurses today—and that's even before considering the price. Clocking in at just over $8,000 per year, NFSU's online BSN degree easily leads the nation—not to mention the state—in value alone.
20. Nicholls State University
Online RN-BSN Articulation Program
Today, 33% of practicing nurses possess a bachelor's degree, and that number continues to rise every day. In fact, the American Nurses Association has issued a statement declaring the need for all nurses to earn a BSN within ten years of practicing. That's why Nicholls State University offers not just one, but two online BSN articulation programs for registered nurses and licensed professional nurses. These low-cost online nursing degrees are the perfect way for nurses of all backgrounds to obtain the credentials they need to maintain professional standards in this rapidly evolving field.
19. Cleveland State University
Online RN to BSN Program
Cleveland State University's fast-track RN to BSN online program stands among not only the fastest degree completion programs available, but the most successful as well. While there are many universities that claim students can complete their advanced nursing curriculum online in as little as three semesters, the data often indicates that these programs fail to deliver for the majority of their students. Not so with CSU: owing to Cleveland State's excellent advisement program, 95% of students actually graduate according to the timeline they set at the beginning of their education. Whether that means a two-to-three year part-time schedule or a one-year, accelerated degree, CSU students can count on graduating on time.
18. Mississippi University for Women
Online RN-to-BSN Advanced Placement Option
Mississippi University for Women has a longstanding reputation as one of the top destinations for both on-campus and distance education for registered nurses. Of course, judging the distance component of this top low-cost online RN program alone widens the playing field pretty substantially, but MUW remains a clear front-runner in what has become a highly competitive arena for educators and students alike. It's also worth noting that MUW is actually a coeducational institution, so male nurses shouldn't fret about missing out on this excellent opportunity.
17. Fayetteville State University
Online BS in Nursing – RN-BSN Track
Fayetteville State University ranks among the most affordable and convenient schools offering RN to BSN online programs today. With a total cost hovering just above $10,000 and a robust nursing curriculum available in a fully online delivery format, there's no sense in questioning the value of Fayetteville's degree completion option for registered nurses. Adding to the convenience factor of this already highly attractive degree, students and/or nurses who have taken eligible nursing courses at an accredited institution can apply up to 32 credits' worth of transfer coursework to the curriculum, thus reducing the total degree requirements by over 25%.
16. Northwestern State University of Louisiana
Online Registered Nurse to Bachelor's of Science in Nursing
Through Northwestern State University of Louisiana's Global Campus initiative, students from anywhere in the state, country, and world can take advantage of the numerous degrees available at this top school. For nursing in particular, only a handful of states actively prohibit students from earning their degree from NSU online. While the general education requirements and nursing prerequisites for NSU's BSN program all feature distance ed. delivery options, registered nursing students can forgo many of these credits. And the convenience continues: students can complete the clinical practicum requirements for their online RN program at approved centers in their own communities.
15. New Mexico Highlands University
Las Vegas, NM
Online RN to BSN Program
New Mexico Highlands University may be one of the only schools in the country dedicated exclusively to the credentialing and career advancement of registered nurses. Without a pre-nursing curriculum or four-year nursing degree program to speak of, NMHU is able to devote the entirety of its nursing department to the needs of online RN degree students. The university's narrow-minded focus seems to pay off, too: with an average price of under $7,000 a year, RN to BSN students can earn an entire bachelor's degree for less than the cost of a semester of tuition at many traditional colleges.
14. Clayton State University
Online RN Completion (BSN or MSN) Program
Clayton State University features a multitude of degree completion options for practicing registered nurses that virtually eclipse the program offerings at peer institutions around the state of Georgia. In fact, with the only continuous, online RN to MSN program available for miles around, CSU is quite clearly in a category of its own. But let's not get ahead of ourselves; CSU's accredited RN to BSN online program is remarkable in its own right. Featuring a 90-hour practicum requirement that spans Community, Education, and Leadership practice, plus part- and full-time enrollment options, CSU doesn't compromise quality for convenience.
13. Nevada State College
Online RN to BSN Nursing Track
Much like Clayton State University, Nevada State College is one of the few schools in the country that allows registered nurses to earn their MSN and BSN in a single seamless, online degree program. But that's hardly the only advantage available to RNs earning their online BSN degree at NSC. In fact, the website Best Master of Science in Nursing Degrees (although somewhat of a misnomer in this case) ranked NSC #1 in its list of the 50 Most Affordable Competitive Colleges for Online RN-BSN Degrees. At just over $10,000 a year on average—and with degree completion possible in as little as four semesters—it's not hard to see why.
12. Northern Arizona University
Online Registered Nurse to Bachelor's of Science in Nursing Program
At Northern Arizona University's School of Nursing, ADNs and registered nurses are eligible for a fast-track online nursing degree that has the capacity to catapult their careers to new heights. Combining 100% online coursework with clinical practicums at centers located in students' local communities, NAU's RN to BSN program offers the best of both worlds – the worlds of convenience and quality, that is. What's more, NAU's seamless BSN Mid-AAS Track grants students the opportunity to begin earning their BSN online while simultaneously working towards an associate's degree – a dream come true for ambitious and efficiency-minded individuals.
11. New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, NM
Online RN to BSN Completion Option
New Mexico State University is not only one of the top resources for online nursing education in the state; it's also a recognized leader in value and convenience across the country. Aside from a brief campus orientation to kick off the program, BSN students at NMSU can earn this degree without leaving the convenience of their own home (though it would do them some good to leave the house once in a while!). And with an accreditation from the CCNE that's secured at least through the year 2022, students today have plenty of time to take advantage of the highly flexible and low-cost RN to BSN online program they can only find at NMSU.
10. California University of Pennsylvania
Online Nursing RN-BSN
With top rankings among online BSN degrees from the likes of US News and the SR Education Group, California University of Pennsylvania is an obvious contender for a top spot on this online registered nurse degree ranking. CUP's cohort class structure and 8-week course modules set it apart from more conventional educational formats that are not necessarily suited for distance learning or students with full-time professional careers. By grouping students together over the course of their degree and mandating a one-class-at-a-time approach to scheduling, CUP promotes focused studying while also encouraging networking and socialization in and out of the virtual "classrooms."
9. Fitchburg State University
Online Bachelor of Science – RN to BSN in Nursing
Included among US News' 2014 ranking of the Best Online Bachelors Programs, Fitchburg State University is known around the nation for its commitment to providing an exemplary distance learning experience. In particular, Fitchburg's low-cost online RN program stands out as a progressive program that integrates law, leadership, and technology with best practices in patient and community care to consistently produce well-rounded and competent nursing practitioners. To top it all off, BSN students at Fitchburg also engage in research and in-clinic practice to acquire hands-on knowledge at the frontier of nursing.
8. Eastern Kentucky University
Online RN-BSN Degree Program
A leader in online education in a multitude of professional and academic fields, Eastern Kentucky University is one of a select few institutions in the nation where it is possible to earn a top online registered nurse degree in a single year. In comparison with the Traditional Path, where BSN students take one course every eight weeks, students in the 1-Year Path double their course load to graduate in just half the time. Although not all students necessarily qualify for this fast-track option, it definitely puts EKU at the front of the pack in terms of convenience and value.
7. Georgia Southern University
Online RN-BSN Program
Even a brief Internet search will reveal that Georgia Southern University sits atop myriad online RN degree rankings from websites such as Online U, Best Master of Science in Nursing, and Top RN to BSN. Suffice it to say that it's hardly a coincidence to find GSU high up on this list as well. Although there is a required on-site orientation for all students who enroll in the online BSN degree program at Georgia Southern, the remainder of the academic experience features both synchronous and asynchronous online coursework as well as part- and full-time options to accommodate a range of domestic and work schedules.
6. Cox College
Online RN to BSN
For better or worse, price is often a deciding factor for students selecting among even the best online BSN degree programs. And while Cox College isn't necessarily the cheapest option available, its affordability certainly makes it stand out among its competitors. Cox's already low tuition is even further mitigated by the 20% tuition discount it offers to CoxHealth RNs. With cost concerns out of the way, there's little reason left to resist the awesome perks of a Cox BSN: dual MSN and BSN programs, which include year-round enrollment, modular scheduling, and 8-week courses.
5. Colorado Mesa University
Grand Junction, CO
Online Registered Nurse-Bachelors of Science in Nursing Program
Like Cox College, Colorado Mesa University offers a tuition discount for affiliated RNs; in this case, students working at a CMU partner institution are awarded a one-time $1,000 tuition discount on top of a host of other financial aid and scholarship opportunities. But this is just the icing on the cake! The educational advantages of an online BSN degree from CMU are vast, from flexible, year-round starting dates to an 18-month accelerated curriculum. Factor in the comprehensive, integrated nursing curriculum that spans hospital technology, administrative strategy, and of course the latest nursing practices, and the end result is a one-stop shop that offers just about everything you could want from a nursing school.
4. Midwestern State University
Wichita Falls, TX
Online RN to BSN
It may sound too good to be true, but Midwestern State University's Wilson School of Nursing has managed to condense an accredited RN to BSN online program into just two semesters of full-time study (or four semesters for part-time students). Naturally, this concision translates to a lower price point as well, but no school would crack the top five if it didn't offer the competitive advantages to match. As a complement to its comprehensive, 100% online curriculum, the Wilson School also features a state of the art, 13,000 square-foot simulation facility to provide hands-on experience in lieu of clinical practicum requirements.
3. Bemidiji State University
Online Nursing (RN-to-BS)
Although Bemidiji State University describes the delivery format for its RN to BSN degree completion program as "blended," there are few enough required campus visits for it to qualify as an online program. More specifically, students need to make the commute to campus just three times each semester. And while this isn't a high hurdle for many, the university nonetheless ups the ante on convenience by offering these face-to-face sessions at multiple regional sites, including locations in Duluth, Cambridge, Coon Rapids, White Bear Lake, and East Grand Forks. Needless to say, it's a small price to pay for the exceptionally low-cost online BSN degree program students will find at Bemidiji State.
2. Fort Hays State College
Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing – RN to BSN
Given the increasingly complex and specialized responsibilities of nurses in hospital and clinical settings around the country, there aren't many compelling reasons not to get a BSN degree. But if you're still in search of motivation, it's worth taking a look at Fort Hays State College. Boasting a CCNE accreditation that's nearly 20 years old, FHSU has led the charge in elevating the standards of the nursing profession nationwide. And now they have made it easier than ever to open the doors to career advancement and graduate education with a 100% online BSN degree for less than $10,000 a year.
1. Bluefield State College
Online RN to BSN Program
Bluefield State College represents something akin to the Platonic ideal of online RN degree programs: a staggeringly low price point; a long history of accreditation; an accelerated (albeit highly selective) three semester completion option; and multiple professional specialization options. Students interested in School Nursing, for example, can take several courses that lead towards the requisite certification at no additional cost. Although there are a handful of required "Boot Camps" (i.e., full-day, on-site instruction sessions) and clinical practicums throughout the degree program, Bluefield's emphasis on quality and value will quickly convince any skeptics that the occasional commute is a worthwhile trade for the caliber of lessons learned.
This marks the end of our ranking of low-cost RN to BSN online programs.
- 30 Best Value Colleges for Nursing in the South: RN-BSN Degree Programs
- 50 Best Value Colleges for a Nursing Degree 2015