The Top Nursing Schools in Iowa

Updated June 29, 2022 · 6 Min Read

Review some of the top nursing programs in Iowa. Explore the process of earning a degree, becoming licensed to practice, and finding employment in the state.

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NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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The Top Nursing Schools in Iowa
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Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Iowa hospitals have experienced an increase in patients and an exodus of nurses, creating a great demand for healthcare professionals.

This guide explores how to become a nurse in Iowa, the salary and job outlook, and the best nursing programs in the state. Keep reading to learn more about the top nursing programs in Iowa.

The Best Nursing Schools in Iowa

Learn more about the top nursing schools in Iowa and how to choose a program that fits your needs.

Our Methodology: We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best nursing schools in Iowa, making it easier for you to find a program that works for you. Our methodology is based on metrics that we believe matter most to students, including academic quality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings.

#1

North Iowa Area Community College

School Information
Location Mason City, Iowa
Graduation Rate 47%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 73% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

The oldest community college in Iowa, NIACC is a nationally-ranked, two-year institution serving approximately 3,000 students. The associate of applied science in nursing features two entry paths: one for beginning college students and one for licensed practical nurses. Some clinical experiences take place during evening hours and weekends and may require travel.

  • Program: Associate of applied science in nursing
  • Campus: Mason City, IA
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Tuition: $172 per credit for Iowa residents; $258 for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent; official transcripts; minimum 20 ACT score
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 91% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $57,995 for associate graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#2

Coe College

School Information
Location Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Admission Rate 63%
Graduation Rate 66%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission

Affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, this ecumenical liberal arts college enrolls over 1,400 students. The bachelor of science in nursing at Coe offers two entry paths. High school seniors with a 27 ACT score or higher and a 3.7 GPA may apply for direct entry. Standard entry is for sophomore-level or higher college students who have completed Coe's general education requirements with at least a 2.7 cumulative GPA.

  • Program: Bachelor of science in nursing
  • Campus: Cedar Rapids, IA
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $50,314 per year
  • Admission Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent; minimum 3.0 GPA; personal essay
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Four years
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 89% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $58,402 for bachelor's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#3

Northwest Iowa Community College

School Information
Location Sheldon, Iowa
Graduation Rate 69%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 67% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Established as a vocational high school in 1965, NCC became a comprehensive community college in 1993. The one-year associate of applied science in nursing is open to licensed practical nurses or students who have completed NCC's practical nursing program. The curriculum prepares students in medical-surgical, obstetrical, pediatric, geriatric, and psychiatric areas. This program qualifies for free tuition through the Iowa Last Dollar Scholarship.

  • Program: Associate of applied science in nursing
  • Campus: Sheldon, IA
  • Type: Public
  • Approved by: Iowa Board of Nursing
  • Tuition: $183 per credit for Iowa residents; $193 for out-of-state students 
  • Admission Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent; official transcripts; valid LPN license and proof of eligibility to practice
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 12 months first-time pass rate
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 83%
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $50,439 for bachelor's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#4

Mount Mercy University

School Information
Location Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Admission Rate 66%
Graduation Rate 64%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 29% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy of America, this Catholic university enrolls 1,600 students. Rated among the top nursing programs in Iowa, MMU awards bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in nursing. The doctor of nursing practice offers a 44-credit doctor of nursing practice-family nurse practitioner pathway for students who are not certified nurse practitioners. Students who already have nurse practitioner certification in any specialty may enter the 27-credit doctor of nursing practice option.

  • Program: Doctor of nursing practice
  • Campus: Cedar Rapids, IA
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $890 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: MSN degree; valid RN license; minimum 3.25 GPA; 3 letters of recommendation; resume; personal interview
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 16 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 92% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $56,847 for bachelor's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#5

St Luke's College

School Information
Location Sioux City, Iowa
Admission Rate 29%
Graduation Rate 100%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 53% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Affiliated with UnityPoint Health, St. Luke's College provides quality health system-based education in nursing and other health professions. The 72-credit associate degree in nursing prepares graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN and to practice as registered nurses. The curriculum includes simulation and multi-bed experiences at the college's dedicated skill labs and hands-on clinical experiences at UnityPoint Health and other sites.

  • Program: Associate degree in nursing
  • Campus: Sioux City, IA
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Tuition: $540 per credit 
  • Admission Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent; official transcripts; minimum 2.5 GPA; minimum 19 ACT score
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $50,856 for associate graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#6

Iowa Lakes Community College

School Information
Location Estherville, Iowa
Graduation Rate 52%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 35% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Located in the state's Great Lakes Region, Iowa Lakes offers 60 certificates, degrees, and pre-professional programs. Prospective nurses may enroll in the associate in nursing program on campus or through a hybrid option at the Emmetsburg campus. The 85-credit program prepares graduates for the NCLEX-RN, with the opportunity to receive their practical nursing diploma after completing 46 credits. 

  • Program: Associate degree in nursing
  • Campus: Emmetsburg, IA
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Iowa Board of Nursing
  • Tuition: $191 per credit for Iowa residents; $202 per credit for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent; official transcripts; minimum 3.0 GPA; minimum ACT score of 20
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 92% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $46,868 for associate graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#7

Western Iowa Tech Community College

School Information
Location Sioux City, Iowa
Graduation Rate 40%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 45% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Established in 1966, this comprehensive community college enrolls over 5,000 students. WITCC offers on-campus and hybrid associate in nursing programs at its Sioux City campus and an on-campus option at its Denison campus. Students complete the licensed practical nurse program in their first year and finish requirements for the associate degree in the second year. 

  • Program: Associate of applied science in nursing
  • Campus: Sioux City, IA
  • Type: Public 
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Tuition: $14,381 per year for Iowa residents; $14,454 per year for out-of-state residents 
  • Admission Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent; official transcripts; minimum 24 ACT score; completion of WITCC practical nursing program in the previous semester or valid LPN license and six credits of anatomy and physiology
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 72% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $50,387 for associate graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#8

Morningside College

School Information
Location Sioux City, Iowa
Admission Rate 63%
Graduation Rate 62%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 54% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Morningside University, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, changed its name from Morningside College in 2021. The doctor of nursing practice, Morningside's first doctoral program, offers tracks in direct patient care and transformative leadership, with options for BSN-to-DNP or MSN-to-DNP entry points. This online program requires a one-day residency for project dissemination and competency demonstration. 

  • Program: Doctor of nursing practice
  • Campus: Sioux City, IA
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $590 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's or master's degree; official transcripts; minimum 3.0 GPA; valid RN license; two letters of recommendation; resume; personal goal essay
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 12 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 87% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $58,479 for bachelor's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#9

Saint Ambrose University

School Information
Location Davenport, Iowa
Admission Rate 77%
Graduation Rate 64%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Established as a seminary for men in 1882, SAU became fully coeducational in 1968. This Catholic-sponsored institution is home to one of the top-ranked nursing schools in Iowa. First-time college students may enter the traditional four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). The accelerated BSN track allows non-nursing bachelor's degree-holders to earn their degree in 16 months. The curriculum incorporates clinical experiences in acute care and community settings.

  • Program: Bachelor of science in nursing
  • Campus: Davenport, IA
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $34,390 per year
  • Admission Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent; official transcripts; minimum 2.5 GPA
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 16 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 88% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $59,377 for bachelor's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#10

Eastern Iowa Community College District

School Information
Location Davenport, Iowa
Graduation Rate 37%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 37% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

EICC serves the residents of several counties bordering the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa. Students can earn an associate of applied science in nursing degree in less than two years. The curriculum features a strong clinical component, typically requiring two clinical days per week in direct patient care settings, conference and observational experiences, and simulation lab practice.

  • Program: Associate of applied science in nursing
  • Campus: Davenport, IA
  • Type: Public
  • Approved by: Iowa Board of Nursing
  • Tuition: $179 per credit for Iowa residents; $246 per credit for out-of-state residents
  • Admission Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent; official transcripts; minimum 2.75 GPA; completion of Certified Nurse Aide curriculum and proof of active status on the Iowa Direct Worker Registry
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 22 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 78% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $54,996 for associate graduates, according to College Scorecard
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Featured Online MSN Programs

How to Choose a Nursing Program in Iowa

When choosing a nursing program in Iowa, consider factors that might impact your academic and professional goals. To simplify the selection process, research the cost, program length, financial aid options, and curriculum to ensure a good fit.

Determine if the program successfully prepares its students for nursing by verifying nursing program accreditation and reviewing the average National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) scores and graduation rates.

Why Become a Nurse in Iowa

With its projected employment demand above the national average, coupled with having one of the lowest costs of living in the nation, Iowa is an excellent location for prospective and current registered nurses (RNs) and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

Iowa also benefits from being a part of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). As part of the NLC, Iowa has joined 36 other states in agreeing to a set of rules and procedures all licensed RNs must follow.

RNs from one of the other 36 NLC states can qualify for a license in Iowa with minimal paperwork. Conversely, RNs licensed in Iowa have an easier time practicing in another NLC state.

Salary and Job Outlook for Nurses in Iowa

With an average annual salary of $62,570, RNs in Iowa have one of the lowest compensation rates in the county, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Nurse practitioners (NPs) earn a higher annual mean wage of $107,910, which is slightly more than the national median of $117,670. Learn more about RN salaries in Iowa.

Despite lower RN salaries, nurses who work in Iowa benefit from the state's low cost of living, with an index of 90.1 compared to a national average of 100. Iowa also expects an increase in the demand for nurses. According to the BLS, the state can expect a 15.1% increase in employment, which is higher than the 12.1% growth projected nationally.

Highest-Paying Cities for Nurses in Iowa

The highest-paying cities in Iowa are located in the more densely populated areas of the state, such as Des Moines, the state's capital. Cities to the north and east of the capital include some of the state's highest-paying regions.

Highest-Paying Cities
Top Paying Metropolitan Areas Median Salary for RNs
Iowa City $68,940
Des Moines — West Des Moines $64,140
Ames $64,030
Cedar Rapids $61,540
Waterloo — Cedar Falls $61,080
Source: BLS

Steps to Becoming a Nurse in Iowa

The state nursing licensing requirements in Iowa are similar to those in other states. Prospective RNs must graduate from a state board-approved nursing program, pass the NCLEX, and complete a background check. APRNs must meet the same requirements as RNs in addition to completing a graduate nursing program and a specialty certification exam.

Both RNs and APRNs must satisfy continuing education requirements for nurses to maintain their license.

RN Requirements

To become an RN in Iowa, nurses must graduate from an accredited nursing program with either anassociate degree in nursing (ADN) or abachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Upon completion, prospective nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for licensure to the state. Fees include a $200 examination fee, $93 application fee, and $50 for a background check.

RNs need a minimum of 36 continuing education hours every three years to maintain licensure. The state also requires nurses who regularly examine, counsel, or treat dependent adults or children to complete training on the identification and reporting of abuse.

APRN Requirements

To become an APRN, nurses need an unencumbered RN license that allows them to practice in the state. RNs must earn amaster of science in nursing (MSN) or adoctor of nursing practice and pass a national certification exam in a nursing specialty. An examination fee applies, which varies by specialty. Nurses must also pay an $81 application fee and a $50 background check fee to get their license from the state.

APRNs only need 36 contact hours each year to maintain their license. They must also complete training on the identification and reporting of abuse if they regularly examine, counsel, or treat dependent adults or children.

Other Top Nursing Programs in Iowa

Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing in Iowa


How long does it take to become an RN in Iowa?

The time it takes to become a nurse in Iowa depends upon the academic path. Full-time students can complete an ADN program in two years and a BSN in four years. A part-time schedule can increase this time line.

An MSN program typically takes two years to complete when enrolled full time after earning a BSN and gaining two years of clinical experience. Therefore, it could take up to eight years to start practicing as an APRN.

Is Iowa a good state for nursing?

The low cost of living, projected demand for healthcare professionals, and NLC status make Iowa a great location for prospective nurses and seasoned veterans.

Does an online nursing degree have the same value as an on-campus degree?

Much like an in-person program, the value of an online degree depends on the institution. Over 90% of students who attended online programs at Allen College, Graceland University, Mount Mercy University, Northwest Iowa Community College, and the University of Iowa passed the NCLEX on their first attempt, highlighting their ability to successfully prepare future nurses.

Is Iowa a compact state?

Yes. In 1998, the Iowa State Board of Nursing voted to initiate compact legislation, which became active in 2000. Iowa nurses can earn a multistate license that allows them to practice in other compact states. Those who move to Iowa from another compact state must apply for primary licensure in Iowa.

Find Nursing Programs in Other States

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NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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