Increasingly popular among aspiring nursing professionals, online MSN programs train nurses to assume critical roles in diverse healthcare fields. Nurses often require nearly the same level of responsibility and dedication as physicians, surgeons, and medical specialists, an ideal career prospect for those motivated by a genuine appreciation for the field of medicine and a desire to help others. With the increasing availability of online learning options, aspiring nurses can earn an MSN degree conveniently and quickly, almost entirely through distance education. Most online MSN programs combine virtual coursework with in-person practicums, performed at hospitals or clinics near a student’s residence. Additionally, an online nursing master’s degree also offers students the opportunity to focus their expertise in a specialization of their choice, including popular concentrations like nurse education, nurse administration, and nursing practice, which is commonly offered through a nurse practitioner program.
The 15 Best Cheap Online Master of Nursing Degrees Ranking Methodology
For this ranking, we focused on public and private (non-profit) colleges and universities that offer online MSN programs. To be eligible for consideration, the school’s nursing department must be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
In addition, we controlled for affordability by only considering schools with tuition rates* less than or equal to $1,000/credit.
*For public schools, we calculated the average value of their in-state and out-of-state rates.
To rank each school, we examined three primary aspects of their online nursing master’s degree programs.
First, we looked at the variety of online MSN programs that each college offers. We awarded full points for each different type of program (education, administration, nurse practitioner, etc.) and half points for each subtype or concentration within a program (ex. family, neonatal, and gerontology options for nurse practitioners).
Of course, just because a school offers a particular program doesn’t mean that students are interested in it.
So for our second metric, we looked at how active the nursing program is in conferring degrees to students. We quantified this measure by looking at the average number of graduate nursing degrees that each college has conferred over the past five years. In addition, we only included MSN programs in this calculation that have graduated at least ten students/year for at least four of the last five years. This approach allowed us to distinguish popular, productive programs from those that have struggled to produce graduates (most likely due to low enrollment and/or retention or because it is a new degree offering).
Because the significance of this figure diminishes as it grows, we implemented a point limit so that any school that graduates an average of 100+ nursing students per year earned the maximum score.
Lastly, we looked at program affordability. We awarded points in this category by subtracting each school’s tuition rate from $1,000 (the maximum allowable cost/credit).
We weighted our calculations so that the maximum score in each category was 15 points for a total maximum of 45 points. Read more about the best cheap online master of nursing degrees below!
15. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
TTUHSC offers one of the most customizable online MSN programs, with nine specializations available through online or blended study. Tracks include traditional options such as administration, education, and family nurse practitioner, and unique nurse midwifery and nursing informatics concentrations. While the number of credits required for completion of the MSN program varies, all tracks require some form of clinical experience, either through an applied practice course (non-practitioner tracks) or practicum (practitioner tracks). Several specializations within the CCNE-accredited online MSN require minimal face-to-face participation at the university’s Lubbock, Texas campus. TTUHSC offers multiple scholarships, including awards for distance students, through its School of Nursing.
14. Maryville University of Saint Louis
Online Master of Science in Nursing
The online MSN program at Maryville emphasizes a holistic approach to the concept of nurses as caregivers in the healthcare field. Students may choose from five concentrations: family nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. The CCNE-accredited MSN online requires no campus visits, but does incorporate a clinical practicum, conveniently arranged near the student’s place of residence. Earning the degree requires completion of between 12 and 21 credits in a specialization, in addition to the program’s nursing core coursework. Applicants do not need to submit GMAT or GRE scores for admissions consideration.
13. Midwestern State University
Online Master’s Degree in Nursing
MSU Texas’ online MSN programs cater to nurses interested in specializing in family nursing practice or psychiatric mental health nursing practice. Each of the MSN emphases require completion of 48 credits, in a combination of nursing core, clinical specialty, and thesis/evidence-based research. Students must complete an advanced practicum and a three-part capstone project to conclude the degree. Both the family nurse practitioner track and the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program also offer post-graduate certificate options. MSN candidates must enroll in the fall semester only. Graduates of the online MSN program in either specialization qualify to sit for the national certification exam in their area of expertise.
12. Indiana Wesleyan University
Online Master’s Degree in Nursing
IWU offers online MSN programs in nursing education and nursing administration, and an online MSN/MBA dual degree option. Students complete online coursework in the MSN as part of a cohort, building team work skills and cultivating peer support for the duration of the degree. IWU offers one-time registration to MSN students at the start of the enrollment process. The CCNE program requires students to complete an on-site practicum at a facility near their residence, in addition to online coursework in their major. The online MSN at IWU concludes with a course demonstrating the student’s ability to integrate theory into their chosen area of specialized nursing practice.
11. University of Kansas
Online Master of Science in Nursing
The master of science in nursing at the University of Kansas Medical Center combines online learning with an applied practicum experience in nursing education, nursing informatics, organizational leadership, or public health nursing. Depending on the student’s focus area of choice, earning the MSN requires completion of between 37 and 39 credit hours, encompassing common core, leadership core, and functional specialty core courses. All online MSN programs culminate in a semester-long, supervised research project in nursing. Full-time students can complete the MSN in as little as two years, while part-time learners typically take three to four years to earn the degree.
10. University of Texas-El Paso
Online Master’s Program in Nursing
Aspiring nursing specialists enrolled in UTEP’s online MSN program may choose one of three majors: nursing education, nurse practitioner, or nursing systems management. Students pursuing a nursing education or nursing systems management MSN degree must complete 33 course credits in nursing theory, research, and practice, which includes residencies in the respective specialty; aspiring nurse practitioners must complete 49 credits, including an additional childbearing/childrearing practicum experience. The UTEP MSN degree takes care to offer students the latest and highest-quality nursing curriculum, in accordance with national standards. Graduates qualify to pursue national certification in their area of expertise in the nursing field.
9. Saint Joseph’s College of Maine
Online Nursing MS
The online MSN program at St. Joseph’s College offers optional tracks in nursing administration, nursing education, adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, and family/individual across the lifespan nurse practitioner. All students must complete a core module, consisting of 24 credits including nursing informatics, research methods, and health assessment. Depending on a student’s specialization of choice, each track requires an additional 18, 21, or 24 credit hours toward completion of the degree. Each specialty track culminates in a capstone course. St. Joseph’s College offers students the opportunity to save on tuition costs by taking advantage of deep discounts, employer reimbursement programs, and educational partnerships with sister schools.
8. Graceland University-Lamoni
Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
Graceland’s online MSN program offers concentrations in family nurse practitioner or adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner. The curriculum in the graduate nursing degree combines online learning with minimal campus attendance in Independence, Missouri, and a guided practicum near the student’s residence. The MSN delivers courses through eCollege, in in 16-week trimesters. Students may enroll in full-time (eight trimesters) or part-time (12 trimesters) study to complete the 47 hours required to earn the degree. MSN candidates complete online coursework as part of a student cohort, and must also attend a two-day focus group and advanced practice competencies lab on campus.
7. University of Texas-Tyler
UT Tyler’s online MSN programs offer optional administration, education, and family nurse practitioner concentrations; students may also pursue a dual MSN administration/MBA degree online. The curriculum in the online MSN encompasses both distance and field coursework, requiring a total of 36-48 credit hours and including a clinical practicum experience. All concentrations culminate in a capstone project. UT Tyler offers nursing grants to qualifying MSN candidates planning to pursue employment in medically underserved/shortage areas after graduation. Generally, full-time and part-time students can complete the program in two or three years, respectively. Applicants may begin the online MSN in their specialty of choice in either the spring or fall semester.
6. Benedictine University
Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree
Benedictine’s online MSN program offers optional concentrations in nurse education and nurse executive leadership. The curriculum in the CCNE-accredited online MSN follows the traditional program, emphasizing the “three P’s” of nursing: physical health assessment, physiology and pathophysiology, and pharmacology. Coursework within each concentration encompasses both foundation and specialty concepts, including a clinical immersion and culminating in a capstone project. Full-time students taking one course per each eight-week term may complete the MSN in roughly two years. MSN candidates can begin the program online at one of three start dates offered each year. Benedictine also offers a dual MSN/MBA option, online.
5. Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi
TAMUCC offers online MSN programs in three specializations: family nurse practitioner (FNP), leadership in nursing systems, and nursing educator. Graduates of the FNP and nursing educator MSN degrees qualify to sit for each field’s respective certification exams. Each specialty track requires students to complete a combination of online coursework and field practicums or clinical hours at a facility near their residence. Online MSN programs cater to part-time students who also work full time. Applicants with previous academic experience may transfer up to 12 credits toward the online MSN, adding further savings opportunities to this affordable distance degree.
4. Texas Woman’s University
Online Master’s in Nursing
Texas Woman’s University offers an online MSN with an emphasis in nursing education. The program accepts applications for fall and spring start dates, and no longer requires applicants to submit GRE or MAT scores for admissions consideration. MSN candidates must complete 40 credit hours to earn the degree, including a practicum in nursing education arranged at a healthcare facility near the student’s residence. The online MSN program culminates in a simulated project or study plan in the student’s area of nursing education expertise. Students admitted into the program automatically become eligible for the Nurse Educator Tuition Award, a scholarship opportunity exclusive to MSN candidates in this specialty.
3. Regis University
Online Master of Science in Nursing
Regis offers online MSN programs in nursing specializations including family nursing practice, neonatal nursing practice, and leadership in healthcare, with further emphases in education or management. The university also offers a master’s degree completion program for nurses with national certification in a particular specialty. Students may choose to complete a traditional MSN in person at Regis’ main campus in northwest Denver, or through the university’s online program, tailored to rural and underserved communities. The online MSN program combines synchronous distance coursework with five on-campus intensives over six semesters. Students must also complete clinical practicums in a hospital or clinic near their residence.
2. University of Texas-Arlington
Online Master of Science in Nursing
UTA offers an accelerated online MSN program in seven concentrations: nursing administration, education, family nurse practitioner, pediatric primary care nurse practitioner, pediatric acute care nurse practitioner, adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, and adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner. Depending on a student’s specialty of choice, online learners must complete between 36 and 41 credits to earn the online MSN, and may complete the degree in as little as 18 months. UTA’s graduate nursing programs emphasize integrative care across multiple healthcare disciplines, and boast high first-time certification passing rates for nursing specializations. Residents of some states are ineligible for select specialty tracks in this UTA program and should check individual rules and regulations.
1. University of Texas Medical Branch
Onine Master of Science in Nursing
UTMB offers an online MSN program in one of seven specialty tracks: adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP), family nurse practitioner (FNP), adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP), clinical nurse leader (CNL), executive nurse leader (ENL), neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP), and nurse educator (NE). The online MSN at UTMB receives approval from the Board of Nurse Examiners for the State of Texas, and CCNE accreditation. While MSN students complete the majority of coursework online, each track requires minimal campus visits, varying from one to three days per semester. UTMB offers competitive scholarships, and accepts up to 12 transfer credits to maximize affordability in its online programs.
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