Online nursing degrees 101

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These days, it's no secret professional nurses are in high demand. Due to the rapidly expanding healthcare industry and nationwide nursing shortage, it's estimated the nursing field will grow more than 27% by 2014. In fact, the healthcare career in highest demand is the registered nurse, currently accounting for 2.4 million jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

With no shortage of job opportunities in sight, individuals who can successfully transition from staff nurse to supervising and managerial roles are in particularly high demand from hospitals. And nurses with bachelor's degrees and master's degrees often find more opportunity for advancement.

Many nurses would like to pursue higher education, but don't have the time or resources to stop working full time. However, a new online solution is increasingly gaining in popularity and many more nurses are finding online education helps meet their professional development needs.

Online nursing programs: The basics

There are recognized online options for associate's, bachelor's, or master's degrees. Accreditation varies from school to school and state to state, and every online nursing program must be licensed and/or approved in the respective state of operation to be valid.

Take note that not all schools are accredited and should be thoroughly checked out before enrollment. When choosing an online nursing school and program, be sure it is accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC).

Is online education really legitimate?

When searching for online nursing programs you may have noticed there are certain on-site stipulations that go along with the online curriculum. This is because licensing boards still require a specific number of hours of live, hands-on, supervised patient care even if you have previously graduated from nursing school and are now looking to advance your degree.

To meet licensing requirements, many accredited nursing programs allow the hands-on patient care part of the courses to be completed under the supervision of qualified nurse educators. For current nursing professionals wishing to expand upon their education, hands-on supervised patient care can be arranged in several ways, including having your direct nursing supervisor or your facility's staff development department sign off on the supervision.

Let's talk money

Affording an education is an important issue for almost everyone. Although tuition varies widely by school and degree program, students should expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $300 dollars per credit, with average tuition for online programs sponsored by public universities generally falling in the $110-170 per credit range. Additional registration or enrollment fees may also be charged. One distinct advantage of taking classes online is that out-of-state tuition is not typically charged.

Just like traditional education, financial aid is also available for online nursing education. Schools offer tuition assistance programs, and the government offers assistance in the forms of loans and grants.
Beyond these options, several nursing scholarships are available. A few examples are listed below:

  • National Student Nurses' Association Scholarships
  • March of Dimes Nursing Scholarships
  • Bureau of Health Professions Nursing Scholarships

The online advantage

For current nursing professionals, online nursing programs offer several advantages, such as:

  • Attending class and studying from the comfort of home
  • Students can set their own schedules, pacing themselves accordingly
  • An online nursing education is not as costly as a traditional education
  • Some online universities will customize programs to meet individual needs
  • Accelerated classes put students on the "fast track," allowing completion of studies in two or three years
  • Online classes allow students to interact with others from around the world
  • Class documents, live chat discussions, training materials, and transcripts are recorded and archived for student use
  • Online education has fewer restrictions, making acceptance into higher education institutions easier for students

The increasing demand for nurses of all skill levels, coupled with the easy accessibility and convenience of online education, makes it a suitable option for the working professional wishing to advance his or her degree. Keep in mind, however, that no nursing degree may be completed without hands-on training. Furthermore, with a deluge of nursing degrees available online, prospective students should do a thorough background check of the educational facility to confirm it is accredited by the NLNAC.