Top Affordable Online Doctorates in Nursing Education in 2021

Top Affordable Online Doctorates in Nursing Education in 2021

Online Ph.D. in nursing education programs prepare graduates to work at the highest levels of the field conducting research, managing healthcare organizations, and educating the next generation of nurses. A doctorate serves as the highest level of education possible for nurses, and the degree commonly leads to positions with excellent job growth projections and high salary potential.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects careers for nurse anesthetists, midwives, and nurse practitioners to grow by an astonishing 45% from 2019-2029, or around 10 times the national average growth rate for all occupations.

A doctoral program can last anywhere from 3-6 years, and most programs require applicants to hold master’s degrees in nursing or closely related subjects. This page offers an overview of online nursing Ph.D. programs, including typical courses, certifications, and career paths after graduation. It also covers doctoral scholarships and answers some of the most common questions about doctorate in nursing programs.

Accredited Online College Programs

Most Affordable Online Doctorates in Nursing Education 2021

  • George Washington University

    Washington, DC



    One of the country's top private colleges, GW based in Washington, D.C., offers an online Ph.D. in nursing program in an executive format. The 57-credit degree emphasizes theoretical and methodological approaches to nursing, preparing students to assume teaching and research positions in academia upon graduation. Graduates may also go on to work in government research or public policy positions.

    GW offers graduate assistantships to qualified students during the program's first two years, providing full tuition remission and a stipend.

    GW's nursing degree uses a primarily online format that includes select campus residency sessions. Candidates attend an on-campus orientation session the summer before the program's start date, along with two intensive weekend sessions per semester during the program's first two years. These residency sessions offer the chance for experiential learning activities, workshops, and in-person meetings with other students and faculty members. The program's weekly online sessions use a primarily synchronous format.

  • The University of Texas Medical Branch

    Galveston, TX



    Part of the prestigious University of Texas system, UTMB is a center of medical education in the state, operating an extensive campus in Galveston, about 50 miles southeast of Houston. The school hosts one of Texas' top online P.h.D. in nursing programs, training experienced nurses to work as advanced practice nurse leaders. The program occurs almost entirely online, with students required to visit campus just once each semester for 2-3 days of classroom courses and seminars.

    Program applicants must hold a master of science in nursing from a nursing program accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Students must hold master's training as clinical nurse leaders, advanced practice registered nurses, executive nurse leaders, or nurse administrators, demonstrating a minimum 3.0 GPA on all graduate coursework.

    Applicants must also have an active, valid, unencumbered nursing license in the state where they plan to practice.

  • University of West Georgia

    Carrollton, GA



    A major public college based in Carrollton,about 50 miles west of Atlanta, UWG hosts one of the country's top doctorate in nursing programs. The online Ed.D. in nursing education employs theoretical and analytical approaches to nursing, preparing graduates for teaching and research positions in the field.

    The program comprises 60 credits and typically takes four years to complete. The curriculum covers topics including nursing theory, scholarly writing, ethics in nursing education, advanced researched methods, healthcare policy analysis, and applied statistical methods in nursing. All candidates must complete a comprehensive exam and a 12-credit dissertation featuring original research into an area of nursing education.

    UWG does enroll online students around the country, but it can't guarantee that its nursing program meets licensure or certification requirements for other states. Students who reside outside of Georgia should consult their respective local licensing boards before enrolling in the program.

  • Villanova University

    Villanova, PA



    Serving more than 10,000 students annually from its campus in southeastern Pennsylvania, Villanova offers one of the state's top online Ph.D. in nursing programs. This private Catholic college adheres to an Augustinian intellectual tradition, and the Ph.D. program uses a teacher-scholar model, preparing graduates to teach nursing at the college level and conduct both clinical and educational research.

    The program uses a hybrid format, with online courses offered in the fall and spring. Students attend summer sessions on the Villanova campus, participating in experiential learning, clinical activities, and traditional classroom courses. The program begins with a campus orientation session in late May or early June.

    Candidates complete a 51-credit curriculum, though exact completion times may vary based on previous educational and professional experience. The program includes courses such as contemporary research design, scientific and grant writing, psychometrics and measurement, and teaching strategies in nursing.

  • Western Connecticut State University

    Danbury, CT



    The only program of its kind in Connecticut, WCSU's Ed.D. in nursing emphasizes nursing education, preparing graduates for tenure-track teaching positions at colleges and universities. Offered in collaboration with Southern Connecticut State University, the degree ranks among the top doctorate in nursing programs in the Northeast, integrating major theories and concepts from both nursing and higher education.

    The 51-credit degree includes five major components: teaching in higher education, specialized nursing education, leadership, science of nursing education, and a dissertation. Courses cover topics such as curriculum development, statistical analysis in educational research, and leadership theories and concepts.

    The program uses a primarily online format, with both synchronous and asynchronous course components. Prior to the initial fall start date, students must attend three on-campus summer residency sessions on the WCSU campus in Danbury, lasting three days each. Students attend additional residency sessions each summer after the program's first and second years.

  • Our Methodology, Explained

    Grad School Hub compiles rankings based on public data released from educational, commercial, and government databases. Sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics play a significant role in how we source our educational data. After collecting insight for each institution, we organize information into five weighted categories.
    Metric Data Used Percentage
    Academic Quality Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates 20%
    Affordability Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid 40%
    Reputation Admission and enrollment rates 15%
    Program Offerings Number of program options 15%
    Online Enrollment Score Portion of learners taking at least one online course 10%
    A more comprehensive evaluation of how each category is determined and scored is accessible on our Ranking Methodology page.

Answering your questions about doctorates in nursing education

  • What does a doctorate in nursing mean?

    After completing your master’s in nursing degree, you can apply for a Ph.D. nursing program to be completed online or in person. A doctorate in nursing is the highest level of education possible in the field, building advanced knowledge in nursing research, education, and practice. With a doctorate in nursing, you can work in administration, thought leadership, or direct patient care.

  • What can you do with a doctorate in nursing?

    A doctorate in nursing prepares graduates for the most advanced careers in the field. Graduates often teach at the college level or pursue careers in research, management, or nursing policy.

  • How long does it take to get a doctorate in nursing?

    The time necessary to complete a doctorate can vary among programs, but most typically take 3-6 years to complete. Some programs allow a bachelor’s degree in nursing, which would require more study years before graduating with a Ph.D. in nursing.

  • What is the highest-paying job in the nursing field?

    While salary levels can vary widely, the highest paying job in nursing is typically nurse anesthetist, which pays an average annual salary of $189,190. By contrast, the median annual salary for a registered nurse is $80,010.

What Are the Goals of Nursing?

Nurses work first and foremost to provide care to patients, promoting and maintaining health for individuals, families, and communities. Doctorate in nursing programs focus on the highest levels of nursing, training students to serve as leaders, managers, educators, and researchers. Doctoral programs often adopt a more conceptual approach to the field, training candidates to conduct the research that leads to new practices and protocols in nursing, rather than performing these practices themselves.

A Ph.D. serves nurses looking to move beyond standard nursing practice and into academic, research, or management positions. However, many programs like the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) also focus on advanced nursing practice and patient care.

What Are the Benefits of a Degree in Nursing?

An online Ph.D. in nursing program offers an assortment of academic and professional benefits for students, and nurses choose to pursue this advanced degree for many reasons.

Increased Job Opportunities
A doctorate prepares nurses for a wide assortment of advanced careers, most commonly in higher education, research, management, and nursing practice.
Increased Salary Potential

Advanced careers typically come with higher salaries, and a Ph.D. can help nursing candidates distinguish themselves when competing for these high-paying positions.

Research Opportunities
For nurses interested in developing new methodologies and approaches to patient care and nursing education, a doctoral program provides extensive opportunities to conduct research.
Additional Certification

A doctorate can also prepare nurses for advanced certifications in the field, which usually lead to more job opportunities and higher salaries.

Networking Opportunities
Enrolling in Ph.D. programs connects nurses with other experienced professionals in the field, which can create valuable professional networking opportunities.

Admissions requirements

Before applying to an online doctorate in nursing program, make sure you meet the admission requirements, which include a master’s in nursing from an accredited program and current and valid registered nurse (RN) license. Most programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0 for master’s level coursework.

 A resume and academic or professional recommendation are also key qualifiers for most programs, as well as academic writing samples demonstrating knowledge of course material. If selected for the online Ph.D. nursing program, be prepared for an in-person or phone interview as well.

How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetist ranks among the most popular career paths in nursing due to its high salary and strong growth projections. Anesthetist positions require at least a master’s degree, though some candidates may choose to pursue a Ph.D. Anesthetist master’s programs require applicants to hold registered nurse licensure, and most programs only admit candidates with at least one year of professional critical care experience.

State requirements vary, but anesthetists must earn certification through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists and complete the national certification examination to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

Career and Salary Outlook for Nursing Majors

Graduates of online Ph.D. in nursing programs can pursue a variety of high-level positions in the field, such as education, research, or management. In general, these careers feature high salary levels and strong advancement potential. The BLS projects certain career paths, such as nurse anesthetist and medical and health services manager, to grow at significantly faster-than-average rates, ensuring generally strong career prospects for nursing graduates in these positions.

CareerMedian Annual SalaryProjected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioner$117,67045%
Postsecondary Teacher$80,7909%
Registered Nurse$75,3307%
Medical and Health Services Manager$104,28032%

Source: BLS

Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioner
Known as advanced practice registered nurses, these highly trained nurses may provide both speciality and primary care. Anesthetists provide anesthesia for surgical procedures, while midwives provide prenatal care and deliver babies. Nurse practitioners coordinate and provide care to patients, often focusing on a specific population, such as geriatric or pediatric.

Postsecondary Teacher
Teaching at colleges and universities, postsecondary teachers train new nurses, instructing students at the undergraduate and graduate level. Nurse educators must design and plan courses, lead classes, and assess student work. As experts in the field, they must also stay informed about the latest developments in nursing.

Registered Nurse
Registered nurses provide a wide assortment of patient care, assessing patients’ conditions, administering treatments, devising care plans, and coordinating care with doctors and other healthcare professionals. Nurses may work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, doctor’s offices, and nursing homes.

Medical and Health Services Manager
Taking an administrative role in the healthcare field, medical and health services managers plan and direct operations in environments such as hospitals and group medical practices. Graduates of nursing Ph.D. programs may supervise and coordinate the activities of other nurses, improving the efficiency of healthcare services and training staff members.

Accreditation for a Doctorate in Nursing

When researching online Ph.D. in nursing programs, you should always make sure prospective schools hold proper accreditation from recognized regional accrediting agencies. Accreditation helps colleges and universities regulate themselves, ensuring that each institution and its academic programs adhere to nationally recognized educational standards.

Colleges may hold national or regional accreditation. While national accreditation typically serves trade and vocational schools, regional accreditation applies to traditional academic colleges, which offer most nursing programs. Only regionally accredited colleges feature nursing programs at the doctoral level. You can determine whether a school holds accreditation from one of the six regional accrediting agencies designated by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Reputable nursing programs should also hold programmatic accreditation from either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Accreditation from either of these agencies indicates that a program offers reputable nursing education and adequate professional preparation.

Courses in a Nursing Doctorate Program

Doctorate in nursing programs cover an assortment of high-level course topics, but they commonly focus on research, education, leadership, and management. Some programs hone in on education, while others emphasize advanced nursing practice. Nearly all programs also include a dissertation component and require you to perform significant original research into an area of nursing or nursing education.

This list highlights five courses commonly found in online Ph.D. in nursing programs. While exact course content may vary among programs, these courses represent key topics likely to figure into most advanced nursing programs.

Certifications and Licensure for Nursing Majors

Like many healthcare professions, nurses depend on licensure and certifications to demonstrate professional competency and obtain higher levels of employment. The registered nurse license is a prerequisite for almost any position in the field, but nurses can also pursue more advanced credentials, three of which are highlighted below.

Graduation Cap

Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified

Demonstrating clinical knowledge and skills, this certification prepares nurses for family practice. Candidates must hold a master’s, post-graduate, or doctoral degree from an accredited nursing program, with a minimum of 500 supervised clinical hours required. The credential remains valid for five years, after which nurses must recertify.

Graduation Cap

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

Serving as the universal professional credential for nurse anesthetists, this certification demonstrates competency to administer anesthesia. Candidates must complete a nurse anesthetist master’s or doctoral program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs. All applicants must hold at least 2,000 hours of clinical experience.

Graduation Cap

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification

This certification prepares nurses for mental health practice, demonstrating competency in health assessment, physiology/pathophysiology, and pharmacology. Applicants must hold a master’s, post-graduate, or doctoral degree with course content in health promotion and differential diagnosis, disease treatment, and clinical training in at least two psychotherapeutic modalities.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

10 Most Affordable Doctorates in Nurse Practitioner Online 10 Most Affordable Doctorates in Health Informatics Online Best Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs

How Can a Ph.D. Student Pay for College?

Nursing students can obtain a variety of funding sources to finance their education, including scholarships. Though not as common as those for nurses in undergraduate or master’s programs, doctoral scholarships do exist, often in the form of grants funding student research. The list below outlines five scholarships for nursing Ph.D. candidates.

American Holistic Nurses Association Research Grants
Who Can Apply: Members of the AHNA with research that focuses on holistic nursing. Doctoral applicants must submit a cover letter, research proposal, budget, and a letter from their dissertation committee chair approving the research application. Recipients must also submit an annual progress report detailing their research.
Amount: $5,000

Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology Graduate Student Award
Who Can Apply: Any graduate or doctoral nursing student conducting research into infection prevention. Award recipients must present their findings at the APIC’s annual conference and may also prepare their research for submission to the American Journal of Infection.
Amount: $5,000

March of Dimes Graduate Nursing Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Nursing master’s or Ph.D. candidates with a focus on maternal-child nursing. Applicants must be a member of at least one professional organization, including the American College of Nurse-Midwives; the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses; or the National Association of Neonatal Nurses.
Amount: $5,000

CVS Together We Care Nurse Practitioner Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: Candidates enrolled in an accredited master’s or doctor of nursing practice program that leads to initial certification as an advanced practice registered nurse with family nurse practitioner certification. Applicants must hold a minimum 3.2 GPA and demonstrate community involvement and leadership.
Amount: $2,500

Nursing Economics Foundation Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Candidates in a master’s or doctoral nursing program with a focus on management or administration. Applicants must plan to pursue a nursing career with an emphasis on administration, education, leadership, or management.
Amount: $5,000

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Mandy Sleight


Mandi Sleight is a contributing writer who covers higher education, online graduate programs, college planning, and more for Grad School Hub. Her writing has also appeared in Kiplinger, MoneyGeek, and The Simple Dollar.

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