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

We built the NurseJournal.org methodology around the metrics that we believe matter most to students assessing prospective nursing schools: academic quality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings. Our team created a unique formula that weighs these factors and divides them into subfactors to rank programs.

Below, you can 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 remain free of editorial influence. We pull data from national databases, the federal government, and other reputable sources. Nursing programs cannot pay for a spot on our list or a higher ranking.

Our ranking lists do not comprehensively include every school that offers a particular program, nor do we intend to create exhaustive lists. Instead, we rank only the top schools according to our methodology.

For a transparent look at the process behind our rankings, you can find information on our data sources, methodology, and formula below. We hope students find our ranked lists helpful as they research and compare potential schools, even if our rankings lead them to a school we have not included.

About the Data We Use

We use the most current available datasets from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) as our primary source. As part of the Institute of Education Sciences, the research and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), NCWS collects and analyzes education data in the United States. This organization reports 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. These measures ensure that our calculations represent the most accurate and complete data available.

We also incorporate average net price and salary data from College Scorecard for ROI information. This data allows us to accurately calculate the value of specific degrees. Backed by ED, 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 2020 to create our ranked lists.

A Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

General Rankings

Affordability Rankings

About Our Ranking Factors

Our team selects the factors and subfactors that we believe are most relevant to students for school rankings. This student-centered methodology emphasizes academic quality, affordability, reputation, and versatile program offerings. We divide these factors into subfactors and incorporate this data into our weighted calculation.

We believe users should understand the factors we use, along with their importance. 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 degree within the expected timeframe. A high graduation rate often indicates strong student satisfaction, while a low graduation rate correlates with a high dropout rate or a poorly designed program. 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 when paired with its graduation rate. This rate measures the percentage of currently enrolled students who remain enrolled in the program. Similar to a high graduation rate, a high retention rate can demonstrate strong student satisfaction. Retention rates can also correlate with a program’s student support services, indicating that students receive help overcoming academic challenges.

  • 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 receive more one-on-one learning opportunities with specialized attention from faculty members. The ratio also correlates 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

Average Net Price for Students Awarded Financial Aid

This figure indicates what learners pay for their education, minus any scholarships and grants. Few students pay full tuition, with most receiving some type of financial aid. This measurement heavily weighs in our methodology as it determines a college’s affordability and the amount of financial aid students can get.

Loan Default Rate

A program’s loan default rate measures how many graduates could repay their loans after completing the program. A high loan default rate indicates that many graduates could not repay their loans, which often points to a lack of employment opportunities. A low loan default rate demonstrates 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.

Average in Student Loans Awarded to Undergraduate Student

Colleges that feature a high average of student loans awarded to undergraduates also have graduates with large debt loads. A low average shows students’ ability to pay out of pocket for tuition. Loans include any financial aid distributed to the students, aside from Direct PLUS loans.

Average Grant and Scholarship Aid Awarde

Grants and scholarships from federal, state, and private funds help students pay for their education. This figure indicates how much “free” financial aid students receive. Colleges that offer larger grant and scholarship aid packages provide greater affordability and accessibility to nursing students.

Median Debt for Student

This datapoint indicates the middle figure of what graduates owe. Sometimes, nursing students may take on more loans when they delay their graduation by attending part time, raising the median debt rate. A program that offers greater affordability has a lower rate.

Subfactors for Reputation

  • Admission Rate

    A school’s admission rate indicates the percentage of applicants admitted to a program. Selective schools with more rigorous admissions processes feature lower admission rates. Indiscriminate schools have high admissions rates. This factor weighs heavily in our rankings, since a program’s reputation affects a graduate’s future earnings.

  • Enrollment Rate

    This number reflects how many students enroll at a school. The college enrollment rate does not reflect how many students graduate or drop out. Enrollment rates demonstrate the school’s reputation and indicate overall trends across the nation. This rate does not affect outcomes, such as a graduate’s earnings.

  • Average Earnings of Students Working

    This average plays a significant role in our methodology, indicating which schools have more financially successful students. A higher average income means that graduates earned more annually within six years after they enrolled in college. Schools with better networking resources and career services often produce graduates with higher earnings.

Subfactors for Program Offerings

Number of Programs Offered

This factor considers the overall number of programs offered by a school. A high number of programs reflects the institution’s commitment to nursing education. In general, a nursing school with a high number of programs better suits online learners, who receive 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.

Percent of Students Enrolled in Online [Degree Level] Programs*

This percentage indicates how many students participate in online programs. Schools with a higher percentage have more students enrolled in diploma, associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs. Nursing schools with more online programs benefit working students.

*This percentage serves only as a subfactor in our methodology for online program rankings.

Overall Online Enrollment**

The overall online enrollment number indicates how many students take any online learning program, including hybrid degrees and single online classes. A school that features a higher availability of online programs serves nursing students with busy work or family lives.

**We do not use this percentage with on-campus rankings.