Students searching for online DNP programs are in good company; as the need for nurses working in the healthcare industry grows so too does the need for professional nurse leaders. With a Doctorate in Nurse Practitioner, students can use their prior nurse training and combine it with leadership skills to advance their careers and become the necessary and ethical leaders that the country needs.

An online doctorate in the field is a great choice for working nurses. Because so many of them work full-time, it has become necessary to build wholly online or hybrid pathways so that these experienced professionals can move forward into leadership positions. Now, with the help of this ranking, these nurses can spend less time researching individual schools and focus on those that have a clear online pathway towards completion.

Methodology

This ranking is based on information that is publicly available through the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator tool. The 90 schools initially considered were carefully sorted to find online DNP programs. Schools that offered a fully online degree or hybrid options were then ranked on their in-state graduate tuition rates. From there, the final 10 were chosen and are listed below in order of least to most affordable.

Ranking Low-cost Online DNP Programs

10. Northwestern State University of Louisiana

Natchitoches, Louisiana

Online Doctor of Nursing Practice

Tuition: $7,620

The DNP program online that is available at the Northwestern State University of Louisiana is a clinical program designed specifically for experienced nurses who are interested in becoming leaders in the workplace. This program teaches nurses the skills necessary to become effective leaders, teaches them about standards of practice, and give them insight into organizational leadership. This program offers two pathways to the degree: Advanced Practice Registered Nurse to DNP and non-APRN to DNP. Both tracks have the same requirements, but courses differ in terms of concepts and theories that are discussed. The program is 100 percent conferred online with the exception of the clinical hours requirement. This must be completed at an approved institution and must cover at least 1,000 hours. Students must also complete 42 hours of coursework and a scholarship. Sample courses include Bio-Statistics, Organizational Theory and Systems Leadership, and Scientific Underpinnings for Practice.

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9. University of Texas at Tyler

Tyler, Texas

Online Doctor of Nursing Practice

Tuition: $7,602

The University of Texas at Tyler focuses on an online DNP program that caters to nurses who are ready to become change agents in their communities. It is a unique degree in that while it is considered a hybrid program, the residency requirements are actually completed during the summer prior to the program starting; all other requirements are completed in a student’s community. Students will engage in scholarly projects, complete 1,000 clinical hours, and work on evidence-based research during their time in the program, all while continuing in their already established careers. Students will be expected to complete 42 credit hours of coursework as well and can decide between two tracks: Clinical or Leadership, both of which are in high demand. Sample courses include Healthcare Informatics, Organizational Leadership and Culture, and Advanced Epidemiology.

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8. Jacksonville State University

Jacksonville, Alabama

Online Doctor of Nursing Practice

Tuition: $7,500

The nurse practitioner doctorate online available from Jacksonville State University is a unique program; it is one of the few programs in the country that will accept students with an undergraduate degree in nursing and help them earn a master’s degree while in the doctoral program. It is also one of the only 100 percent online DNP programs in the nation, enabling nurses to continue their careers while working part-time on their terminal degree. All students will focus on the leadership and administrative skills necessary for becoming nurse leaders, regardless of the track that they embark on. Students will be required to complete between 36 and 48 credit hours of coursework, depending on their track, and 1,000 clinical hours past the undergraduate level. Sample courses include Clinical Prevention and Population Health, Health Care Policy and Finance, and Biostatistics and Translating Evidence.

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7. University of Nevada at Las Vegas

Las Vegas, Nevada

Online Doctor of Nursing Practice

Tuition: $7,183

The online DNP program at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas offers three tracks based on a student’s prior nursing experience levels. It offers post-graduate to DNP and BSN-DNP programs, although certain application requirements, such as clinical hours and work experience, do apply. This program is also not available as a 100 percent online program to students in some states, so it’s important for students to clarify if they qualify prior to applying. All tracks are online cohort programs and it does require the completion of 1,000 clinical hours past the undergraduate level for graduation. Students must complete 68 credit hours of coursework, including clinical hours and a scholarly project, and a capstone project. Sample courses include Family Theory and Health Promotion, Informatics and Quality Improvement, and Business Management for Nurse Practitioners.

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6. Missouri State University at Springfield

Springfield, Missouri

 Online Doctor of Nursing Practice

Tuition: $7,060

An affordable DNP program online comes from Missouri State University at Springfield, which offers a hybrid program that is accredited by the CCNE. This program does require some courses be taken at campus during the academic semester, so this is a good choice for students who live in the state. Other options that lead to a DNP include the BSN-DNP and the Post-master’s DNP tracks; all require a minimum of 1,000 clinical hours past the undergraduate level for graduation. Students can also expect to complete 29 credit hours of coursework and a scholarly project. Sample courses include Social Justice and Disparities in Health and Healthcare, Technology for Transforming Nursing and Healthcare Systems, and Health Policy to Improve Health Disparities.

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5. East Carolina University

Greenville, North Carolina

Online Doctor of Nursing Practice

Tuition: $6,997

East Carolina University confers multiple online DNP programs, including tracks for BSN-DNP and Post-Master’s DNP. This hybrid program boasts a residency requirement of just one campus day residency each semester and an inter-professional curriculum designed to combine leadership skills with the experience these nurses already have. The school also has a stated focus on rural and underserved populations, making it a great choice for nurses who already work in those environments. Students can expect to complete a minimum of 24 credit hours of coursework, 1,000 clinical hours past the undergraduate level, a capstone project, and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Primary Care of Adults, Obstetrical healthcare, and Synthesis in Primary Care of Families.

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4. Florida International University

Miami, Florida

Online Doctor of Nursing Practice

Tuition: $6,556

Students at Florida International University can earn an online DNP that is 100 percent conferred online. Those that hold a bachelor’s degree may also earn a DNP, but will have to stay in the doctoral program longer than post-master’s degree students; these nurses average close to 74 credit hours of coursework and 1,300 clinical hours. The program has the same goal for all students: to teach them how to become the leaders that the nurses around the country need. With minimal admission criteria for the programs and courses being offered on a part-time basis, this is a great choice for professionals who are still working in the field. Students of the DNP program can expect to complete 36 credit hours of coursework alongside their cohort and 1,000 clinical hours. Sample courses include Translational Research, Healthcare Finance and Economics in Advanced Clinical Practice, and Health Policy.

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3. University of Central Florida

Orlando, Florida

Online Doctor of Nursing Practice

Tuition: $6,368

The University of Central Florida confers five different online and hybrid DNP tracks, including executive and practitioner tracks. These are available to both undergraduate and post-graduate students; it is advised that candidates research the options that are available to them. The tracks can lead to leadership status in different subsections of nursing or even to graduation as a nurse executive or Advanced Nurse Practitioner. All students will be required to complete, at a minimum, 45 credit hours of coursework; this includes 1,000 clinical hours as well as the DNP project. BSN students may be required to complete upwards of 78 credit hours of coursework, enabling them to earn both their master’s degree in nursing while completing the DNP program. Sample courses include Evidence-Based Practice Development, Nursing Environment Management, and Program Development and Management.

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2. Georgia Southern University

Statesboro, Georgia

Online Doctor of Nursing Practice

Tuition: $6,273

The DNP program at Georgia Southern University is a great choice for busy nurse professionals. The eight-semester hybrid program requires one week-long residency each summer throughout the course of the degree; all other requirements can be completed online and, in the case of clinical hours, can be completed in a student’s community upon the approval of a preceptor. It was also designed to be taken as a part-time program, as most nurses work full-time and do not have the luxury of attending any school, online or traditional, as full-time students. Cognates are also offered, including Business, Epidemiology, and Public Health. The program requires 46 credit hours of coursework and 1,000 clinical hours for graduation. Sample courses include Leadership and Management in Practice Transformation, Population Focused Collaborative Initiative, and Health Care Financing and Policy Development.

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1. New Mexico State University

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Online Doctor of Nursing Practice

Tuition: $6,094

New Mexico State University confers the DNP with two specialty tracks: Family Nurse Practitioner and Psych/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. This is an online-only, CCNE-accredited program; no campus residencies are ever required for any student. It is a practice-based doctoral program and although coursework and scholarly projects can be completed online and in a student’s community, it is important to remember that this program requires 1,000 clinical hours for graduation. This means that nurses who cannot accommodate for that time will not be suited for this program. Students are also advised that BSN-DNP students will only be accepted as full-time students; part-time is only available for post-master’s students and there is no exception to this rule. Students will be required to complete at least 36 credit hours of coursework, a DNP project, and clinical hours for graduation. Sample courses include Applied Nursing Science, Innovations and Health Care Organizations, and Translational methods and Evidence-Based Practice.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Career Options for an Online Doctorate in Nursing Practice?

Nursing professionals who take on the DNP will already be aware that this is a terminal degree and, with the exception of specialty certificates, this is top rung of the nursing profession ladder. This means that this degree gives professionals the ability take on any clinical-based role.

The most popular, as well as the most demanding, role is that of nurse executive. Often called chief nursing officers, this is the most senior management position that a nurse can achieve. These are also demanding careers, which often include leading a staff of nurses and reporting straight to the management board of a healthcare facility. These professionals can work in hospitals, clinics, mental health facilities, elderly or hospice homes, and more.

Another option, which is rare for DNP holders, is that of an academic. The reason this career option is rare is that most nurses who wish to become academics generally take the Ph.D. track. However, some nursing schools will offer positions to DNP holders simply because they have experience as executives in the healthcare industry.

How Much Can You Earn in this Field?

The salary of a nurse executive can depend on the size of the facility in which they work, the cost of living in the area, and other factors, but most nurse executives in this field make anywhere between $100,000 and $300,000 a year. This is considered to be a starting salary and while the position application process can be competitive, it is also a highly rewarding position for most nurses.

If that seems like a high salary, that’s because employers are paying for a nurse’s experience, education, and expertise. Although smaller healthcare facilities and firms pay less, they also tend to pay at least $100,000 in order to compensate a nurse properly for their experience. Salaries also do tend to go up the longer a nurse is in their position, enabling them to earn not only comprehensive benefits but also additional compensation in the form of overtime and bonuses.

What are the Various Disciplines of a Nurse Practitioner?

It would be simple to say that the disciplines of nursing practice are leadership and nursing, but it’s far more complicated than that. These nurses utilize several different disciplines throughout their work week and can often seem to be doing more than one person’s job. DNP students do have a foundation in nursing, and to a certain degree, a specialty in the field. This could geriatrics, neonatal, mental health, family practice, and more; all of these have specific disciplines that come into play. Since nursing is a practice-based profession, most of the disciplines are used on a daily basis.

At the doctoral level, however, the disciplines of business, law, policy, human resources, management, technology, public health, and more are at work. Teamwork, leadership, and administrative skills are also necessary for this field, leaving nurse practitioners and executives to be some of the most interdisciplinary professionals in the workforce.

Can You Earn an Online DNP with Only a Bachelor’s Degree?

Over 20 years ago, this would have been laughable, but times have changed. It is actually common to find DNP programs that offer different BSN-DNP tracks, but with some caveats and considerations, which are listed below.

First, for a nurse who holds a BSN to be considered for a DNP program, they must provide evidence of having completed an accredited BSN. They must also demonstrate evidence that they have a nursing license that is in good standing and at least one year’s worth of work experience. Professional recommendations and a resume are also required for these candidates.

Second, a nurse with only a BSN can expect to do more work and be in school longer than an MSN-DNP candidate. This is because most programs require that a student earn a master’s degree in nursing prior to completing the doctoral program. This also means that, depending on the school, students could spend as much as 1,5000 hours doing clinical experiences while balancing coursework and capstone projects.

Third, most DNP programs have separate tracks for BSN-DNP students that require these students to attend school full-time. This is because this program requires between 72 and 98 credit hours of coursework, clinical hours, and in some cases even a research project. Students generally do not have the time to work while pursuing their DNP.

Finally, the BSN-DNP tracks that are available at many schools are restrictive, meaning that only students with specific specialties at the undergraduate level will be considered. The most common specialty is Family Nurse Practitioner, although Mental Health Nurse Practitioner is also accepted. Students are encouraged to research BSN-DNP programs to see if their undergraduate degree will gain them entry into these online programs.

Is Accreditation Necessary for an Online Doctoral Degree?

Accreditation is absolutely essential for a student who is earning a doctoral degree. In fact, in the United States of America, it is a requirement by the U.S. Secretary of Education that practice-based nursing degrees, such as the DNP, hold accreditation. That accreditation is offered by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and it is as important as regional or national accreditation.

The reason is simple: accredited schools have a shared educational standard that employers rely on when employing DNP graduates. Because this is a leadership position, employers need to feel confident that the candidates they have at their disposal have the necessary education and skills needed to do the job they were hired to do. It also ensures that each DNP graduate is also licensed because it is the main requirement of doctoral programs that a student hold a nursing license in good standing.

Without accreditation from AACN, a student will have taken on a degree that is basically worthless in the eyes of the healthcare industry. No company or healthcare facility will hire a DNP graduate from an unaccredited program. Those employers simply cannot trust that the nurse has the necessary foundation in order to be in a leadership position.

Many online DNP programs do not offer information on whether they are accredited or not upfront; the ones on this ranking are, with the information being found on the program’s website under the “accreditation” tab. Students are encouraged to ask outright if a school has accreditation at the doctoral level or to visit the AACN site and search for schools manually. It is not advised that a student take it on good faith that an online program is accredited; research it first.

Nursing doctoral graduates are sorely needed in the healthcare sector. With the need for nurses expected to grow at an accelerated rate through 2020, it’s important that nursing leaders are there to help shepherd in the new generation of nurses. With the help of this ranking, curated by the GSH staff, students can find all of the necessary information they will need to find the right school for them. From discussing schedules, practicum requirements, and the different approaches to each degree to including the most accurate tuition rate information, this ranking is the best place to begin the search for online DNP programs that may be a great fit.

GSH Staff
April 2018

This concludes our ranking of the Top 10 Most Affordable Doctorate in Nurse Practitioner Online for 2018.