While nurses can still enter the profession with a specialized diploma or an associate degree, many health care facilities may prefer to hire those with at least a bachelor's degree. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing now recommends a Baccalaureate degree as the minimum education needed by nursing professionals.
If you are currently a nurse but don't have a bachelor's degree, you may want to consider one of a growing number of online degree programs designed specifically for practicing registered nurses who want to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Commonly known as RN to BSN programs, these degrees build upon the hands-on experience you already have.
Nurses may pick an online RN to BSN instead of an on-campus program for a number of reasons, including the following.
- Ability to schedule classes around work shifts
- Opportunity to continue working full-time while studying
- Selection of accredited, quality programs
- No need to pay for room and board, commuting costs or child care while in class
Selecting the Top Online Colleges for Nurses
With so many online colleges nursing programs available, it may be difficult to find the perfect program. We've helped narrow your choices by compiling a top ten list based upon tuition and graduation rates.
First, we used data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to review tuition rates. We looked for schools with tuition that was around or below $10,000 per year. We listed in-state tuition when in-state tuition was offered by the school. These rates represent the average overall rate charged by a school for undergraduate degrees, and they are not specific to online programs.
Next, we culled the list by looking at graduation rates. The graduation rate is reported by the NCES and indicates how many first-year, full-time students earn their bachelor's degree in six years or less. Graduating on time is an important component to keeping overall college costs down. According to the NCES, the average graduation rate at institutions nationwide in 2012 was 59 percent.
Ordered by those with the highest graduation rates, the following institutions made our list of top ten online colleges for nursing. All tuition and graduate rates reflect 2013-2014 data from the NCES database. See our Methodology section for more details on the ranking methodology.
#1 - East Carolina University
- Graduation Rate: 81%
- In-state Tuition: $6,143
East Carolina University has been offering distance education in North Carolina for more than 60 years. What's more, the university has the highest graduation rate of the top online colleges for nursing on this list. According to the NCES, 81 percent of ECU undergraduates earn their bachelor's degree on time. Among the school's 75 online degrees and certificates are several options for nurses. At the undergraduate level, there is a RN to BSN degree offered. Then, at the graduate level, students can select from a master's degree in nursing with seven different concentration options, or they may enroll in one of seven post-graduate certificate programs for nurses. Three of these certificates have on-campus requirements while the others can be earned fully online.
#2 - Brigham Young University - Idaho
- Graduation Rate: 68%
- Tuition: $3,850
Registered nurses can earn their BSN in three to six consecutive semesters at Brigham Young University - Idaho. It's one of ten online bachelor's degrees offered by the institution. The school offers five associate degrees and nine certificates online, as well.
#3 - Indiana State University
- Graduation Rate: 64%
- In-state Tuition: $8,256
While most schools only offer a RN to BSN degree, Indiana State University also has a LPN/LVN to BSN program. The LPN/LVN option is available through a partnership with Ivy Tech Community College that allows students to transfer applicable credits to the university. Meanwhile, the RN to BSN program features the option to earn up to ten hours of credit through a professional portfolio evaluation.
#4 - South Dakota State University
- Graduation Rate: 56%
- In-state Tuition: $7,713
South Dakota State University offers 17 undergraduate and graduate degrees online as well as 8 certificate programs. Its RN to BS program has been offered online since 2000 and is available to nurses who have a diploma or associate degree from a program approved by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. SDSU also offers a master's degree in Nursing that is available in three concentrations: nurse educator specialization, clinical nurse leadership specialization with nurse administrator emphasis, and clinical nurse leadership specialization with clinical nurse leader emphasis.
#5 - Lamar University
- Graduation Rate: 53%
- In-state Tuition: $7,429
At Lamar University, nursing students enrolled in the online RN to BSN program will take part in didactic courses, lab assignments and clinical work on their way to a bachelor's degree. Those who already have their bachelor's degree may be interested in one of the school's two accelerated master's degree in nursing programs. Both are offered online and one is focused on nursing administration while the other concentrates on nursing education.
#6 - Bellevue University
- Graduation Rate: 50%
- Tuition: $3,754
Bellevue's RN to BSN program is offered entirely online with no clinical requirements, and at $3,754 per year, the tuition at Bellevue is the lowest in our top ten list. As part of the program, students will have the opportunity to complete portions of the Nurse Manager Certification offered by honor society Sigma Theta Tau.
#7 - Bemidji State University
- Graduation Rate: 48%
- Tuition: $8,124
The RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing is one of seven online undergraduate programs offered by Bemidji State University, which is part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Individuals applying for the program must be licensed to practice nursing in the state of Minnesota or be a graduate whose license is pending. The program is offered mainly online but some on-campus sessions are required.
#8 - Colorado Technical University (Visit Schools Site)
- Graduation Rate: 43%
- Tuition: $10,531
Tuition for Colorado Technical University's online program is higher than the other colleges on the list. Though the NCES reports 43% percent of all Colorado Technical University students graduate on time, the school reports an impressive graduation rate specifically for students of its nursing program. According to Colorado Technical University, 96.72 percent of students graduating from the RN to BSN program complete their studies within 48 months.
#9 - American Public University
- Graduation Rate: 42%
- Tuition: $6,400
At American Public University, more than 180 courses of study are available. The Bachelor of Science in nursing is open to students who have a current, active license as a registered nurse. The program focuses on developing nursing skills as practitioners, scientists and leaders.
#10 - West Texas A&M University
- Graduation Rate: $6,500
- In-state Tuition: 40%
There are eight bachelor's degree programs and nine master's degree programs that can be earned either completely online or partially online at West Texas A&M University. The RN to BSN degree completion program is one of those offered fully online and can be earned in as little as a year. The nursing department may offer special tuition rebates to certain eligible in-state students.
Taking your education to the next level and earning a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing can be a smart career move. You can learn more about RN to BSN programs by contacting schools for additional information. Our Top Online Colleges Guide is another resource to use if you are looking for the schools ranked for quality, flexibility and affordability.
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator
- The Baccalaureate Degree in Nursing as Minimal Preparation for Professional Practice, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, http://www.aacn.nche.edu/publications/position/bacc-degree-prep
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing, American Public University, http://www.apu.apus.edu/academic/programs/degree/1440/bachelor-of-science-in-nursing
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Colorado Technical University, http://www.coloradotech.edu/degrees/bachelors/nursing
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Bemidji State University, http://www.bemidjistate.edu/academics/distance/undergraduate/nursing/
- BS in Nursing RN to BSN, Brigham Young University -- Idaho, http://byui.edu/online/degrees-and-programs/nursing-rn-to-bsn
- Fast Facts: Graduation Rates, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=40
- Nursing Degree - RN to BSN, Bellevue University, http://www.bellevue.edu/degrees/undergraduate/nursing-bs/
- Nursing (R.N. to B.S.N.) West Texas A&M University, http://www.wtamu.edu/academics/nursing-rn-program.aspx
- Online Distance Education, East Carolina University, http://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/ugcat/DistanceEd.cfm
- Online Undergraduate Programs, Indiana State University, http://www.indstate.edu/online/undergraduatePrograms.shtml