Nursing ranks among the top three most popular undergraduate and graduate online education majors.
It trails only business administration and computer science and engineering, according to the “Online College Students 2016: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences” report.
Online educational opportunities in nursing have taken off, according to Karen Ouzts, PhD, RN, APHN-BC, BSN program director at Walden University School of Nursing, which was founded in 1970.
Not too long ago, there were only a few online nursing programs, but now, online programs are a regular part of many local, on-campus, traditional nursing programs, Ouzts said.
“I would say almost any type of nursing degree, whether it’s undergraduate or graduate, would be available online,” Ouzts said.
Steven Litteral, MSN-Ed, RN, knows the importance of online nursing education. Litteral is completing an online PhD in nursing and, after graduating with an associate degree in nursing from a traditional brick-and-mortar school, he earned his nursing bachelor’s and master’s degrees online.
Today Litteral is nursing program director at Ameritech College of Healthcare, a traditional on-campus associate degree program in Draper, Utah, with an RN-to-BSN online program.
While most nursing students pursue associate or BSN degrees in traditional classrooms, with hands-on clinical experiences, many choose online programs to advance their careers, Litteral said.
“Online programs give you the opportunity to work and go to school,” he said. “When the kids go to bed or my wife goes to bed, I go to the computer. That’s my time to go to school, versus going to a night class and spending four or five hours in a classroom.”
Another benefit of online nursing education is that students often interact with students and faculty from around the country, even around the world. A potential drawback is that those interactions aren’t in person, or face-to-face, as in a traditional classroom.
Online education is more convenient, but it’s a misconception that it’s easier than traditional classroom education. To be successful in online education, students must be disciplined enough to make the time to do their work, Litteral said.
“It’s challenging because you have to be very dedicated,” Litteral said. “It still involves the same amount of time as it would be in a class, but it’s on your own time.”
Options to consider when evaluating online nursing programs
Having the time needed and being organized are keys to online education success, Ouzts said. “Nurses are busy people with full-time work, family time and caring for elderly parents,” Ouzts said. “Plan to take one course at a time, if possible, because nursing courses in general are rigorous and demanding of their time.”
There are other important considerations before committing to an online degree. Not all online programs are alike, and students should do research before signing up.
“You want to look for teacher interaction. You want to make sure the program is accredited and that its instructors are accessible,” Litteral said.
Students should check on a school’s regional accreditation, which gives students a level of comfort that a school meets regulatory and quality requirements and hasn’t had issues with the Department of Education, according to Ouzts.
“You would never want to go to a school that wasn’t at least regionally accredited,” she said.
The highest quality indicator for an online program, according to Ouzts, is professional accreditation through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation.
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education as a national accreditation agency. It’s an autonomous accrediting agency, which assesses and identifies nursing programs that engage in effective educational practices, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
The National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation process is guided by the league’s core values of caring, diversity, integrity and excellence, according to its website where talks about the accreditation.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re online or on the ground, [professional accreditation] is a stamp of approval, above what’s required for regional accreditation,” she said.
Quality online programs also need to demonstrate an emphasis on offering students services, such as writing services or access to an online library, according to Ouzts.
Explore and compare costs of nursing education, too
Online education costs vary greatly among programs, Ouzts said.
“I would have to say cheap isn’t necessarily better, but it doesn’t mean you have to go to the most expensive program,” she said.
A local, small college that’s offering the courses online might have low prices, according to Ouzts, but it doesn’t mean the educational experience is equal across programs.
It might not provide student services, have many graduates or have a good reputation. Those are all factors to consider in a school’s cost, she said.
Ready to get started? Search which schools offer online nursing programs in your state on our Nursing Schools Directory.
Freelance writer Lisette Hilton contributed to the writing and research of this article.
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