By BVS Staff
To compile this ranking, our editors began with an initial pool of 70 schools offering online doctor of nursing practice degree programs. We then began qualifying each school by consulting with College Navigator for graduate tuition numbers. We then turned to PayScale.com for information regarding the 20-year ROI for each school. Finally, we looked at US News & World Report’s ranking of the top online graduate schools in nursing. With all of this data collected, we applied the rating and ranking methodology below. In cases where two or more schools received the same number of points, we used tuition to break the tie, awarding the more affordable schools the higher rankings.
Rating and Ranking Methodology
Our editors used the following methodology to develop this ranking of the 10 best value online doctor of nursing practice programs:
- Under $5,000—5 points
- Under $10,000—4 points
- Under $15,000—3 points
- Under $20,000—2 points
- Under $25,000—1 point
20-Year Return on ROI
- Above $400,000— 4 points
- Above $300,000— 3 points
- Above $200,000— 2 points
- Above 100,000— 1 point
US News and World Report Recognition as a Top Graduate Nursing Program
- Top 10—5 points
- Top 25—4 points
- Top 50—3 points
- Top 75— 2 points
- Top 100—1 point
Best Value Online Doctorate of Nursing (DNP) 2018
#1 – University of Alabama- Huntsville
The University of Alabama-Huntsville offers two online doctor of nursing practice degree pathways: a Post-Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) to DNP and a Post-Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) to DNP. Advanced topics include Philosophical, Theoretical, and Conceptual Foundations for Advanced Practice Nursing; Health Policy and Politics: Implications in Health Care, Health Care Finance and Economics, and Interdisciplinary Leadership and Role Development for Advanced Practice Nursing. Students can complete their coursework on a part-time or full-time basis. In addition to the online component of this online doctor of nursing practice program, one DNP Intensive is required on campus.
Graduate Tuition: $9,834
#2 – University of Nevada- Las Vegas
Las Vegas, Nevada
The University of Nevada-Las Vegas offers several online doctor of nursing practice programs, including a BSN to DNP program with Nurse Practitioner and Academic Leadership tracks, a BSN to DNP and a MSN to DNP program with Nurse Executive tracks, and a MSN to DNP program with Academic Leadership and Advanced Practice tracks. Sample course titles include Health & Public Policy for Advanced Practice Nursing; Translational Evidence for Healthcare Systems; Collaboration, Communication & Negotiation for the Nurse Leader. This online DNP program is available fully online, but only to students in certain states.
Graduate Tuition: $4,968
#3 – University of Missouri
The online doctor of nursing practice degree program from the University of Missouri’s Sinclair School of Nursing is a Doctor of Nursing Practice with an emphasis in Nursing Leadership and Innovations in Health Care. The program consists of approximately 40 credit hours and includes course titles such as Nursing Leadership, Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Organizations and Human Resource Management in Nursing, Nursing and Health Policy, and Health Care Financial Management. Most of the coursework can be completed online, but to earn the online doctor of nursing degree, students must attend a five-day seminar at the beginning of the program and another towards the end of the program. A clinical residency is also required.
Graduate Tuition: $8,462
#4 – University of Massachusetts- Amherst
One of the first schools to offer online doctor of nursing practice degrees in the nation, the University of Massachusetts- Amherst allows its BSN to DNP students to choose from concentrations in family nursing, public health nurse leadership, adult/gerontology primary care nursing, or psychiatric mental health nursing. A DNP completion program is also available for nurses who already hold a master’s degree in the field. Foundational course titles include Health Disparities and Social Justice, Leadership and Public Health Systems, Healthcare Informatics, and Healthcare Quality. This is one of the only online doctor of nursing practice programs that can be completed entirely online with no required campus visits. Some clinical experiences are required but can be coordinated in the student’s local area.
Graduate Tuition: $13,524
#5 – Duke University
Durham, North Carolina
Duke University’s online doctor of nursing practice degree program is designed for working nurses. The program offers three distinct pathways to the DNP: a BSN to DNP, a MSN to DNP, and a PhD to DNP. Curriculum details vary based on the chosen specialization, but some of the core courses include Transformation of Health Care Systems, Data-Driven Health Care Improvements, Effective Leadership, and Transforming the Nation’s Health. Although the course material can be completed online, a two-day campus orientation is required as are four executive on-campus sessions. Online doctor of nursing practice degree students must also submit a DNP project, but it can be completed at the student’s place of employment.
Graduate Tuition: $49,500
#6 – Texas Tech University
Texas Tech University offers a few options in the way of online DNP programs from its Health Sciences Center School of Nursing. There is the BSN to DNP program with tracks in Family Nursing and Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing in addition to the post-master’s DNP. Standout course topics include Population Health and Epidemiology, Informatics & Technology to Improve Health Care, Practical Application of Statistics in Healthcare, and Leading Teams in Complex Health Care Environments. Some traditional campus courses are required for this online doctor of nursing practice degree program, as are supervised clinical experiences.
Graduate Tuition: $5,400
#7 – University of Michigan- Flint
The University of Michigan offers three online DNP programs: a BSN to DNP, a MSN to DNP, and an alternative pathway for registered nurses who hold bachelor’s degrees in another field. Part-time and full-time options are available, depending on which pathway is pursued. Students in the BSN to DNP program may choose from specializations in adult gerontology, family health, and psychiatric health. Those on the MSN to DNP track can complete post-graduate certificates in psychiatric mental health or adult gerontology acute care. Students have many research opportunities available to them as well as opportunities to apply their learning in a clinical environment. UM-Flint’s online doctor of nursing practice degree students can expect to make one visit to campus per year to complete the program.
Graduate Tuition: $9,959
#8 – The University of Arizona
The University of Arizona’s College of Nursing offers several options for students who wish to pursue an online doctor of nursing practice degree program. These include part-time and full-time BSN to DNP programs and MSN to DNP programs as well as DNP/PhD Dual Degrees. Most requirements for these programs can be met online, but some visits to Tucson are required, such as for the Resident Intensive Summer Experience (RISE), for example. Full-time students can expect to complete this online doctor of nursing practice program in 2 ½ to 3 years. The school is fully accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Graduate Tuition: $11,372
#9 – East Carolina University
Greenville, North Carolina
East Carolina University’s online DNP programs include a BSN to DNP program with tracks in adult gerontology and family nursing and Post-Master’s DNP tracks in advanced practice registered nursing and leadership. Sample course titles include Health Assessment for Advanced Nursing Practice; Interdisciplinary Leadership and Role Development for Practice Excellence; Health Care Police, Politics and Ethics; and Philosophical, Theoretical and Conceptual Foundations. Up to five campus visits per semester are required, and students will receive individualized mentorship from a professor while completing their DNP project. East Carolina’s online doctor of nursing practice programs emphasize the care of rural, underserved patient populations.
Graduate Tuition: $4,656
#10 – University of Alabama – Birmingham
The University of Alabama- Birmingham offers both post-baccalaureate and post-masters online doctor of nursing practice programs. The BSN to DNP program is only available to residents of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi and includes single or dual specializations in psychiatric mental health nursing and family nursing. Standout course titles include Primary Care for Rural Families, Informatics for Advanced Practice Nursing, Advanced Pharmacology, and Evidence-Based Practice Roles and Processes for the Nurse Practitioner. There are no campus visits required for this online doctor of nursing practice degree, but students must arrange the clinical components of the program under the advisement of a mentor.
Graduate Tuition: $7,588
Why Earn an Online Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree (DNP)?
There are many good reasons why one may decide to pursue an online doctor of nursing practice degree? One of the most compelling reasons is that nurses with these degrees are currently in-demand, and it appears that this will be the case for the foreseeable future. As the baby boomer population ages and nurses in high-level positions begin to retire, there will be an increasing need for educated, qualified advanced nursing practitioners. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment positions for those holding DNPs will grow by 31% in the next seven years.
Another reason to pursue an online doctor of nursing practice degree is that the credential will immediately increase your wage potential. Advanced nursing practitioners are among the highest paid professionals in the healthcare arena. According to the BLS, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners make over $107,000 per year whereas other health diagnosing and treating practitioners make less than $80,000 a year.
Finally, online DNP programs prepare nurses to make positive, meaningful contributions to their local communities. For nurses who want to make a difference on a larger scale, this is a compelling reason to pursue an online doctor of nursing practice degree program. Moreover, many of these programs specifically target underserved populations, so advanced nursing practitioners can contribute where the need is greatest.
Curriculum for Online Doctor of Nurse Practice Programs
As with any other program, the curriculum for online doctor of nursing practice degree programs can vary from school to school, but there is some significant overlap, at least for core courses. In addition to these core or foundational courses, students will be required to take higher-level classes in their chosen specialty area.
Below are some sample core courses comprising the curriculum for typical online DNP programs.
- Transforming the Nation’s Health
- Best Practices in Nursing Specialties
- Healthcare Policy and Advocacy
- Health Care Information Systems
- Health Care Economics
- Epidemiology and Population Health
In addition to coursework, most online doctor of nurse practice programs require that students complete residencies. For this reason, not all of the program can be completed online. For the most part, you can assume that you will have to make a few visits to campus. There are a few exceptions to this rule, however. The University of Alabama- Birmingham, for example, doesn’t require campus visits but does require that the student arrange clinical experiences in their local areas. These sites must be approved beforehand by a mentor or faculty advisor.
Customization Options for Online Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree Programs
Not all online doctor of nursing practice degree programs are alike, and many schools offer options for students to customize their program depending on their specific circumstances and career goals. For instance, students may choose to complete their degree plans on a part-time or full-time basis, depending on their current work and home responsibilities. Moreover, the curriculum for online DNP programs vary based on the student’s current level of education. Students who hold Master’s degrees in nursing may be eligible for an MSN to DNP program, for example. These programs tend to be much shorter than BSN to DNP programs since they can focus on the most advanced topics right away. Finally, many online doctor of nursing practice programs have different tracks for the various specializations nurses may wish to pursue such as tracks in executive nursing, academic leadership, and advanced clinical practice, for instance.
Career Information for Graduates of an Online Doctor of Nurse Practice (DNP) Program
There are many career options for graduates of online Doctor of Nurse Practice (DNP) programs, depending on the specialization they pursue while in graduate school. For the most part, these are in-demand and highly lucrative positions. Below are some of the job titles these graduates may hold.
- Nurse Practitioner
- Nurse Anesthetists
- Nurse Midwife
Since job duties, salary information, and career outlook data vary for each of these job titles, we’ll discuss them separately.
Nurse practitioners (NP)s provide general care to patients as primary or specialty care providers. They may assess patients’ symptoms, determine a diagnosis, and create a care plan. In this way, nurse practitioners perform many of the same duties as a primary or specialty care doctor. Of course, nurse practitioners work under the supervision of doctors and must consult with them regularly.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners earned a median annual wage of $100,910, as of May 2016. Pay for nurse practitioners can vary significantly depending on a number of factors, including their work environment. Nurse practitioners who work in hospitals tend to make more than those who work in doctors’ offices, for instance.
The job outlook for nurse practitioners is very promising. According to the BLS, jobs for NPs are expected to grow by 35% by the year 2024. That means approximately 44,700 new positions for nurse practitioners across the United States. Many of these positions will be filled by graduates of online doctor of nursing practice programs such as those highlighted in this ranking.
Certified nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) administer anesthesia to patients undergoing surgery and other medical procedures. Although this is their primary function, CRNAs also educate patients about the risks of anesthesia prior to the procedure and answer any questions they may have. They will remain by the patient’s side throughout the procedure to monitor them and to increase or decrease the anesthesia as needed.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2016, certified nurse anesthetists make a median annual wage of $160,270. This makes them the highest paid nurses holding the doctor of nurse practice distinction.
The job outlook for nurse anesthetists is not as promising, however. According to the BLS, jobs for nurse anesthetists will grow by 19% by the year 2024. Although this is still faster than average compared to all occupations, it is significantly slower compared to nurse practitioners and nurse midwives.
Certified nurse midwives—or CNMs—provide care to pregnant women before, during, and after labor. This includes performing gynecological examinations and delivering prenatal care, for instance. Nurse midwives also deliver babies and provide medical care to newborn babies.
Certified nurse midwives make significantly less than nurse anesthetists and slightly less than nurse practitioners, but they are still well-paid compared to all health practitioners. As of May 2016, nurse midwives earned an annual median wage of $99,770.
The job outlook for certified nurse midwives is positive. By the year 2024, jobs for CNMs will grow by 25%, which is faster than average compared to all occupations. Still, the number of midwives practicing in the United States remains relatively low, so this equates to only about 1,300 new jobs for nurse midwives.
Potential Work Environments/Conditions for Graduates of Online DNP Programs
Advanced nurse practitioners who graduate from online doctor of nursing practice programs may work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, and outpatient care centers. Although its less common, some advanced nurse care practitioners—particularly—may perform their job duties at patients’ homes.
Work conditions for advanced nursing practitioners can be challenging. Many work long hours and have to stand or walk for long periods at a time. Some must be on call and report to the hospital at odd hours of the day and night. These nursing professionals often work in high-risk environments as well and take the risk of coming into contact with infectious diseases. The job isn’t just physically demanding either. Dealing with critically ill patients and making life-or-death decisions on a regular basis can be emotionally taxing as well.
Frequently-Asked Questions for Students Interested in Online DNP Programs
It’s common for students interested in pursuing online doctor of nursing practice programs to have many questions. Below, you’ll find answers to some of these:
Can I earn my online doctor of nursing practice degree entirely online?
No. Although the majority—if not all—of the coursework required for online DNP programs can be completed online, clinical experiences are required for all of these programs. Some programs require additional residencies as well.
How long will it take to earn my online doctor of nursing practice program?
You can expect to spend between 2 ½ to 5 years completing the online DNP, depending on whether you currently hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing and how many credits you’re eligible to transfer. Your time spent in school before being awarded your degree will also depend on whether you can attend classes on a part-time or full-time basis.
How much will an online DNP program cost?
Tuition costs for online doctor of nursing practice degree programs vary widely. The costs for programs in this ranking range from under $5,000 a year to nearly $50,000 a year, for example. Financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants, and loans may be available to help fund your education.