shutterstock 349354088Registered nurses who want to advance their nursing careers can become advanced practice nurses (APRN).  These degrees are offered at numerous online colleges and universities. Master’s programs in nursing may include entry-level master’s degrees, RN to master’s degree programs, baccalaureate to master’s degree programs, dual master’s degree programs, and post-master’s certificate programs. These programs prepare nurses to become clinical nurse leaders, nurse managers, nurse practitioners, nurse informaticists, and nurse educators. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, advanced practice nurses are projected to grow 26% over the next 10 years. This is much faster than the average amount of projected growth for all occupations.

Master of Science in Nursing degrees can significantly raise your earning potential. Advanced practice nurses earn a median wage of $113,930, compared to $71,730 for RNs.

So, what makes good quality online master’s programs in nursing? Cost, length of program, accreditation and accolades are common factors used to determine quality. Of course, students look at cost as a factor for good quality online master’s programs in nursing, but other factors need to be considered. The most important of these factors is accreditation. Accrediting organizations like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) evaluates schools according to standards established by professionals in that field. This means that “accredited” schools decrease a student’s need to investigate good quality schools because much of the investigatory work has been done already. Accrediting bodies are used as a safety net for students so that colleges cannot just “hand out” degrees without being vetted.

How to review colleges

Students should take note of the program’s length and curriculum offered by the school. In general, master’s programs in nursing are a minimum of 36 credit hours. This includes baccalaureate to master’s degree programs. Master’s programs in nursing should specifically list which accreditation they are awarded. Be cautious of colleges that do not blatantly list accreditation or list accreditation that seems phony or fake. All accreditation should have a corresponding website, as well as be listed on the Department of Education.

Students can protect themselves by further investigation through the Department of Education’s list of accredited universities for nursing programs. Schools that do not have a reputable accrediting body, are not verified by the Department of Education, and require less than average credit hours should be red flags. Students should proceed with caution.

Online master’s programs in nursing are numerous, but which are the best quality? Good quality programs are defined by cost, length of program, accreditation and accolades of the university. The most important factor is accreditation which determines and verifies the quality of each program.

Why accreditation matters

Accreditation is usually determined by third party organizations to reduce bias and conflict of interest. These accrediting agencies define operating standards for educational or professional institutions and determine if those standards have been met. Programs, such as master’s in nursing degrees, are reviewed to determine quality. Accreditation also ensures that curriculum is up to date, relevant for the field of study, and consistent among universities. You don’t want to attend a college that is teaching outdated nursing research, and then be behind the curve when you begin to practice in the ‘real world’.

Several large publishing companies drive many of the curriculum used by nursing schools today; both undergraduate and graduate programs. These publishers have their own accrediting bodies to which they must answer. Thus, safeguarding high-quality nursing content being delivered to all universities and colleges.

Without accreditation, schools cannot be trusted as high-quality educational sources that provide good outcomes after graduation. Attending colleges that are accredited, reassures students that programs are evaluated and held to high standards.

How accreditation works

When looking into good quality online master’s programs in nursing, look for those accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Most graduate nursing schools should be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, but if they are not, be wary of attending. The CCNE is an independent accrediting agency, invested in the improvement of the public’s health. The commission’s responsibility is to make sure the quality and integrity of baccalaureate, graduate, and residency programs in nursing exist. It also ensures nursing programs self-evaluate and continue to improve.

The CCNE is a nongovernmental peer review process that operates in accordance with nationally recognized standards. The standards include:

  • To hold nursing programs accountable to the community of interest.
  • To evaluate the success of nursing programs.
  • To assess the extent to which a nursing program meets accreditation standards.
  • To inform the public of the purposes and values of accreditation and identify nursing programs that meet accreditation standards.
  • To foster continuing improvement among nursing programs.

These standards are upheld and are the reason that the CCNE is the golden standard for nursing program accreditation. There are many good-quality online master’s programs in nursing that are CCNE accredited.  The CCNE offers search options to locate approved universities across the United States. Students can search by state to view a list of accredited online nursing programs. Accreditation should be students’ number one concern when choosing good quality online master’s programs in nursing.

The second factor when looking for online master’s programs in nursing is cost. Therefore, accreditation and cost should be the two factors that are given priority in your search. Other factors that make up good quality master’s programs in nursing are program length and convenience.

Overall, several factors need to be taken into consideration when choosing good quality online master’s programs in nursing. The top priorities should be accreditation, cost, program length, convenience and available accolades.

Good quality choices

The following programs are defined as good quality programs determined by accreditation, cost, length of program, and accolades of the university:

  • Fitchburg State University
  • West Texas A&M University
  • Winona State University
  • Fort Hays State University
  • Western Carolina University
  • University of Alabama
  • East Carolina University
  • Delta State University
  • Aspen University

These programs are lower cost, average length, accredited and have several accolades. Since these colleges are accredited by the CCNE, they are safe and can be trusted with your education. All these colleges offer online master’s programs in nursing.

To conclude, nursing is expanding into a dynamic profession that brings many rewards and career advancement opportunities. These opportunities are available through good quality online master’s programs in nursing. More education brings more opportunities for nurses with master’s degrees. Advanced practice nurses will play an important part in developing new skills, research and practice innovations. For those considering advancing their nursing careers, now is the time to consider graduate-level online nursing programs.

Tessa Chatham

Master of Science (M.S.), Nursing Education| Aspen University

Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Nursing| Texas Christian University

Bachelor of Arts (B.A), Psychology and English| The University of Texas at Arlington

November 2019

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