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How We Rank Online Nursing Programs

We assess schools based on academic quality, affordability, online flexibility, and potential ROI. Learn more about our methodology here.

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At, we create our rankings using a unique, student-centered methodology. Our approach objectively assesses a nursing school’s overall merit, incorporating up-to-date, reputable data into our formula to provide useful resources for prospective nursing students.

The methodology we use at is built around the metrics that we believe matter most to students when they’re assessing prospective nursing schools: academic quality, affordability, online flexibility, and potential return on investment (ROI). Our team created a unique formula that weighs these factors and divides them into subfactors to rank programs. Below, you will find a breakdown of our formula, including what subfactors we use. By prioritizing factors like affordability and quality, we center the student experience and the value of a nursing degree.

Our data-driven methodology also ensures that our rankings are free of editorial influence. The data used in our rankings comes from national databases, the federal government, and other reputable sources. Nursing programs cannot pay for a spot on our list or for a higher ranking.

Our ranking lists do not comprehensively list every school that offers a particular program, nor are our lists meant to be comprehensive. Instead, we rank only the top schools according to our methodology.

Below, you can find information on our data sources, methodology, and formula, giving you a transparent look at the process behind our rankings. We hope students find our rankings helpful as they research and compare potential schools, even if our rankings lead them to a school we haven’t included.

About the Data We Use

The biggest data sources used on are the most current available datasets from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES is part of the Institute of Education Sciences, which is the research and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education. NCES collects and analyzes data on education in the United States, reporting complete statistics on American colleges and universities, including nursing schools.

When incorporating NCES data into our methodology, our quality assurance team carefully assesses each school. We exclude schools missing a significant amount of data from our rankings. This ensures our calculations represent the most accurate and complete data available.

We also incorporate average net price and salary data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard for ROI information. This data allows us to accurately calculate the value of specific degrees. Backed by the U.S. Department of Education, the College Scorecard project provides data on college costs and outcomes. Since 2013, the College Scorecard has enforced transparency in educational data to help students and families make informed decisions.

All data used in our ranking methodology comes from publicly available sources. Our team regularly updates our rankings based on newly released data. We pulled the most current data in December 2019 to create our rankings.

A Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

Affordability Rankings

About Our Ranking Factors

Any school ranking must choose which factors to consider when evaluating programs. Our team selects the factors and subfactors that we believe are most relevant to students. This student-centered methodology emphasizes academic quality, affordability, online learning experience, and return on investment. We divide these factors into subfactors and incorporate this data into our weighted calculation.

We believe users should understand what factors we use and why they’re important. This section provides a detailed overview of the subfactors that make up our methodology, including data like graduation rate, net price, and financial aid offerings.

Subfactors for Academic Quality

  • Graduation Rate

    A program’s graduation rate measures the number of enrolled students who complete their degrees within the expected time. A high graduation rate often indicates strong student satisfaction, while a low graduation rate can correlate with a high dropout rate or a poorly designed program that makes it difficult to complete degree requirements on schedule. Data on graduation rates can also indicate programs that provide high-quality resources for students, including academic advising and mentoring.

  • Retention Rate

    A program’s retention rate provides additional information on academic quality, particularly considered alongside its graduation rate. Retention rate measures the percentage of currently enrolled students who stay enrolled in the program. Similar to a high graduation rate, a high retention rate can demonstrate student satisfaction. Retention rates can also correlate with a program’s student support services, indicating that students receive help overcoming academic challenges and remain enrolled.

  • Number of Programs Offered

    This factor considers the overall number of programs offered by a college or university. A high number of programs reflects the school’s commitment to nursing education. In general, a nursing school with a high number of programs better suits online learners because they have greater access to academic services, academic advisors, and faculty members. Diverse program options can also benefit nursing students who are considering specializations or related degrees.

  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio

    A school’s student-to-faculty ratio measures the number of students in relation to the number of faculty members. A lower student-to-faculty ratio means students have more one-on-one learning opportunities and specialized attention from faculty members. Programs with low student-to-faculty ratios offer more individualized education. The ratio can also correlate with faculty quality and qualifications; schools with a low student-to-faculty ratio invest in hiring enough faculty members to support their student populations.

Subfactors for Affordability

Net Price

This factor evaluates the net price of a nursing degree or the total cost of a program minus financial aid, which can vary widely. Our methodology incorporates data on the cost of tuition, administrative fees, and books. While the net price will vary depending on the student’s financial aid package, by using average net price calculations, we can determine which schools offer nursing degrees with the lowest out-of-pocket costs.

Financial Aid Offerings

Our methodology considers each program’s financial aid offerings to determine which provide the most financial support for students. This factor incorporates data on the percentage of students awarded financial aid and the ratio between the average amount of aid received and the cost of the program. As a result, this assessment reflects the availability of financial aid and how much that financial aid covers relative to the total cost of the degree.

Loan Default Rate

A program’s loan default rate measures how many graduates were able to repay their loans after completing the program. A high loan default rate indicates that many graduates were unable to repay their loans, which often points to a lack of employment opportunities. A low loan default rate indicates strong job prospects after graduation. Our methodology factors in the loan default rate as a measure of a degree’s affordability and its ability to prepare graduates for the workforce.

Subfactors for Online Flexibility

Percent of Students Partially or Fully Enrolled in Online Classes

This factor considers how many students at the institution enroll in at least one online course. It includes fully online students and those enrolled in a hybrid format. Schools with a high number of students enrolled in online classes generally invest more in their online student services, offering things like online tutoring, advising services, and online tech support. As such, this factor reflects a school’s commitment to its online programs and students.

Subfactors for ROI

Twenty-Year Net Present Value (NPV)

When determining the return on investment for a degree, the NPV measures the value of the degree over time. NPV factors in the cost of completing a nursing degree and the expected future earnings for professionals with that degree. A positive NPV indicates that students will pay off the cost of the degree with increased in earnings due to having the degree. By incorporating the 20-year NPV into our methodology, we measure which degrees are the smartest investments.