The Growth and Importance of Online Nursing Programs

America needs more nurses.

How serious is the situation? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment projections, by 2012-2022 there will be a need for 525,000 replacements nurses in the workforce, bringing the total number of job openings for nurses due to growth and replacements to 1.05 million by 2022.  Never before have RNs, LPNs and general nurse practitioners been more in demand. One way colleges have responded to the desperate needs of the present and future nursing community has been to “blend” online educational programs with practical clinical experiences.

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What’s causing the shortage? The rise in specialized health care needs, fueled by a baby boom generation wading into retirement, has changed the needs of the healthcare community and posed a challenge to the health care educational community. The median age of nurses is 46. More than 50 percent of the nursing workforce is close to retirement. And recent reforms in healthcare will give millions of people access to the system. Many current younger nurses need more education.

Below are projections of future needs in the profession:


Given the promising job outlook for nursing professionals, it’s not surprising that online programs for nursing degrees have grown significantly over the past few years. Colleges have been moving their nursing programs online for almost as long as online education has existed. But they are doing so now at a faster rate: For example, the number of fully online R.N. to B.S.N. programs in America has grown by more than a third in the last two years according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

Although almost all nursing programs today blend online with practical experience, the AACN is quick to acknowledge the growing importance of going digital. In some colleges and universities that offer nursing courses online, lectures have been eliminated or replaced with interactive seminars. Some online nursing programs, for example, provide interactive seminars to students in all nursing courses. Seminars have multiple uses, including providing a platform for faculty to present information not yet available in a textbook, addressing topics that students have expressed an interest in, or answering questions on course content. Use of online seminars helps learners make connections among readings, online discussion, and written assignments.

The instructor promotes these connections by clarifying concepts or helping learners think more deeply about a particular issue. Through this process, learners don’t simply memorize material for the sake of later “regurgitating” it on an exam. Instead, they must demonstrate mastery of the material, which faculty evaluates based on student posts on interactive discussion boards and written papers. In short, distance education provides a deeper cognitive exercise.

Online courses from an accredited online nursing program are just as rigorous as you would expect traditional courses to be. Do not expect earning your nursing degree online to be any easier than in a brick-and-mortar institution. Online colleges and traditional colleges are accredited in the same way — they both must meet the criteria set by independent accrediting bodies to receive recognition by that body.

What follows are the five (current) types of online nursing degrees offered by online colleges. All the following programs offered at accredited schools:


Once you earn that online degree you’ve worked so hard to attain, the monetary rewards can be substantial. The figures below represent average salaries; neither the highs nor the starter salaries are represented. The salaries, plus the need for qualified nurses has fueled the growth in the field, and online opportunities are leading the way.


One last word of caution: Make absolutely sure the online nursing program you’re considering is accredited by one of the two Department of Education-recognized nursing accreditors:

• The National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC)
• The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Accreditation by any other agency does not count. Accreditation by the Department of Education- recognized nursing program accreditors may not only ensure your freedom from online scams, but it may also make you eligible for student loans, tuition reimbursement programs, and many types of scholarships and grants.

Online nursing degrees are legitimate so long as they are earned through an online learning institution that is accredited. Conduct plenty of research before you enroll in a school or program. This way you are reassuring your future employer that you received both a quality education and the training, knowledge and skills needed to excel in the nursing field. And, by the way, this also will mean you didn’t waste several years of time and money to receive a fake degree that most employers will likely not accept.