Nursing schools are finding more and more ways to reduce the overall cost of attendance. Many organizations have brought attention to the need for more educated nurses as a nursing shortage impacts the nation. Enrollment for nursing degree programs has reduced by as much as five percent over the last five years. One of the reasons for the decline is that traditional BSN and MSN programs on campus are not considered affordable. One way to attract more nursing students is to work with professional and private organizations to provide scholarship and grant money to those who enter BSN and MSN degree programs. The scholarship may include a contingency like a four-year commitment to work as a nurse in the state.
More and more colleges are also expanding their catalogs to include affordable RN to MSN online programs. The way that these programs work is fewer credits are required for graduation. The clinical hours gained while being a registered nurse is applied to the student’s graduation requirements. Besides reducing credit requirements, affordable online RN to MSN programs also limit the amount of time the nurse has to spend in college. RN to MSN programs can usually be completed in two years or less. In comparison, a traditional MSN takes two years on average and is done after completing a four-year BSN degree. Although RN to BSN tracks are available at nursing schools, affordable online RN to MSN programs are preferred. With a graduate-level degree, the nurse is able to secure higher-paying positions such as a nurse manager or nurse practitioner.
How We Ranked the Most Affordable Online MSN Programs
There are lots of ways to measure MSN programs, but for many working nurses who want to advance in their career, the price tag is critical. The Nursing School Hub ranking of the most affordable online MSN programs is organized by one factor: tuition cost, as reported to IPEDS. However, we started with only accredited, reputable institutions that are known for their quality, so students can trust that affordable doesn’t mean cheap.
1. University of West Georgia
When you want to find the most affordable online MSN programs, the University of West Georgia is a good option for your goals. The Master of Science in Nursing is fully online and focuses on providing an innovative educational program. Students can expect it to focus on teaching relevant skills as well as the appropriate use of technology in nursing and healthcare. Students can also study nurse leadership and gain the appropriate skills to handle a leadership position as a nurse.
The University of West Georgia stands out by focusing on the practical application of skills students learn throughout their nursing educations. It builds on undergraduate studies and helps students learn practical skills they can apply in their careers. It also recognizes the value of technology and new advances in modern medicine, so students can expect to learn about the use of technological tools as it applies to nursing and healthcare.
Highlight: The University of West Georgia is ranked among the top schools in the nation for online nursing degrees by U.S. News and World Reports.
2. West Texas A&M University
West Texas A&M University has one of the most affordable MSN programs for students who want to pursue a higher level of education in nursing. The degree program focuses on teaching students the comprehensive skills they need to handle complex situations as a nurse. It also allows students to tailor their course material based on personal goals in nursing through elective courses. The elective courses allow students to develop specialized skills and training that applies to specific aspects of nursing.
The way West Texas A&M University stands out is the focus on assisting working adults. The degree program is fully online and it recognizes that nurses are often working during odd hours. It allows students to apply skills and knowledge at a hospital, clinical practice, or the facility where they work as part of the hands-on training to further understand the clinical practice of skills in nursing. Students are not required to attend any classes or training on-campus, so it works well around complicated schedules.
Highlight: West Texas A&M University emphasizes patient care technology and effective communication via technology in the nursing course materials.
3. Lamar University
When you are looking for the most affordable MSN programs, you will want to consider the online MSN at Lamar University. The university offers two concentrations in nursing at the master’s level: nursing education and nursing administration. Students can select the concentration that fits their personal goals and helps with plans for a career. The nursing education degree program focuses on providing students with the skills to work in a classroom environment and teach future nurses. The nursing administration degree focuses on business management skills as well as traditional clinical, theoretical, and research skills that apply to nurses and leaders in nursing.
Lamar University differs from other programs by emphasizing nursing education and administration. The degree programs offer a specialized education that helps nurses focus on specific career plans. It is particularly helpful for nurses who want to take on leadership roles in a medical facility or who are planning to become an educator to teach younger nurses the skills they need to work in a clinical environment.
Highlight: Lamar University offers accelerated eight-week courses for students who want to graduate at a fast pace.
Degree: MSN – 2 concentrations
4. University of Central Missouri
The University of Central Missouri offers an online MSN degree program with two concentrations to help students focus on their long-term goals. Students can focus on becoming a nurse educator or a family nurse practitioner through the master’s degree program. The nurse educator program provides students with the foundation they need to take on a leadership role in a classroom environment. The family nurse practitioner program prepares students to take the nurse practitioner exams and to work in a clinical environment.
The University of Central Missouri focuses on teaching advanced-practice nursing skills to students in the master’s degree program. It ensures that students in both concentrations have a strong foundation in nursing and know how to handle different situations that may arise in their careers. Students are able to gain specialized skills that emphasize specific career paths while working as a nurse.
Highlight: The University of Central Missouri offers faculty advising to students to help them determine the right courses to accomplish their degrees and goals.
Degree: MSN – 2 concentrations
5. Indiana State University
Indiana State University offers a fully online MSN program that helps students accomplish their goals. The affordable online program offers two areas of concentration: nurse practitioner and nursing education. Students can select the concentration that fits their goals to work in a clinical setting or to educate future nurses in an educational setting.
Indiana State University stands out by offering solutions to help students with the cost of their degrees. It works with veterans to assist with any veterans benefits that apply to their situation and it offers a payment plan in some situations to students. Students can also apply for financial aid when taking an online degree program after filling out their FAFSA paperwork.
Highlight: Indiana State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.
Degree: MSN – 2 concentrations
6. Ferris State University
Ferris State University is one of the most affordable online MSN programs for students who want to advance in their careers as a nurse. The degree program is designed around the needs of working adults and ensures that students are able to keep up with their career objectives while working on a higher level of education. It also focuses on teaching students relevant skills that include nursing informatics, nursing administration, and nursing education.
Ferris State University stands out by offering a comprehensive program that takes different aspects of nursing into account when working on an education. Students are able to improve their nursing skills through advanced practice nursing while also developing the ability to act as a leader in their field. The program includes a practicum and scholarly project to give students a strong foundation that helps with their long-term goals.
Highlight: Ferris State University is accredited by the ACEN.
7. Saint Francis Medical Center
Saint Francis Medical Center offers an affordable online MSN degree that prepares students for the challenges they will face when working as an advanced practice nurse. The degree program focuses on integrating theory with research and practice to ensure that students know the practical applications of theories in nursing. It also emphasizes collaborative leadership to help nurses in leadership roles work with administrators or medical doctors in a clinical setting.
Saint Francis Medical Center stands out by offering seven concentrations in the MSN program. Students can work on a family nurse practitioner program, neonatal nurse practitioner, nurse educator, and other concentrations to gain specialized skills in a specific area of nursing. The options ensure that students are prepared to handle the rigors of working in a specialized area of nursing.
Highlight: Saint Francis Medical Center offers a learning management system that makes it easy to communicate with faculty and classmates while working on a nursing degree.
Degree: MSN – 7 concentrations
8. Liberty University
Liberty University offers an affordable masters of science in nursing that prepares students for their long-term career goals. The degree program allows students to select from seven concentrations, which range from nursing informatics and health policy to community health and nursing administration. The available options ensure that students are able to reach their goals by developing the specialized skills they need to take on challenging tasks in a clinical, educational, or research environment.
Liberty University stands out by focusing on flexibility. The degree program is fully online and allows students to work at their own pace. It offers classes that are eight-weeks long for a fast-paced environment. Since it allows students to work on material at any time of the day or night, it allows working nurses to keep up with classes while they are handling tasks in a medical facility. It recognizes that nurses may have different hours each week and allows students to complete materials when they have time.
Highlight: Liberty University is CCNE-accredited and meets the high standards for accreditation.
Degree: MSN – 7 concentrations
9. Ball State University
Ball State University offers an affordable online degree program that helps students prepare for their goals. The school offers three concentrations for students looking into a master’s degree: a family nurse practitioner concentration, a nurse educator concentration, and a nurse administrator concentration. Students can select the concentration that fits with their goals and plans, whether they want to work in family practice, take on a leadership role, or educate new nurses in a classroom setting.
Ball State University differs from other programs by ensuring that educators are capable of providing unique perspectives into the challenges of working in a clinical setting. The faculty at the university are practicing nurses and draw on their experience in nursing to help students understand the practical application of theories and research. It gives students the opportunity to learn from the first-hand knowledge of working nurses.
Highlight: U.S. News and World Reports ranks Ball State University as the 13th best program for online nursing degrees.
Degree: MSN – 3 concentrations
10. Gardner Webb University
Gardner Webb University prepares students for the challenges of working as an advanced practice nurse with two concentrations in its master of science in nursing degree program. Students can study nurse administration or nurse education to prepare for a career in a leadership position or a teaching position. The school recognizes that students may have a variety of goals and offers specialized studies that help them learn the relevant skills they need to practice as a nurse as well as to work as a leader.
Gardner Webb University stands out by offering an accelerated RN to MSN program online that is designed around the needs of working nurses. The RN to MSN program allows students to complete a master’s degree after working as a nurse, even if they have not yet finished their bachelor’s degree. It is an accelerated program that helps nurses gain a higher level of education by integrating the bachelor’s degree studies into the master’s degree studies to help students finish their degrees at a faster pace.
Highlight: Gardner Webb University emphasizes collaboration and communication throughout course material to prepare students for the challenges of working as a leader.
Degree: MSN – 2 concentrations
11. Old Dominion University
When looking for an affordable online MSN program, Old Dominion University is a good option. The school offers six concentrations in nursing for students who want to focus on specialized areas of advanced practice nursing. Students can focus on neonatal care, gerontology, psychiatric mental health, or other specialized skills.
Old Dominion University stands out by focusing on different areas of nursing. It gives students multiple options for their careers and ensures that students are able to obtain their goals for a career. The flexible online format helps working nurses keep up with their degrees while maintaining a job. It also helps individuals who have personal obligations that limit their time.
Highlight: Old Dominion University students have a certification pass rate for advanced practice nursing of 95 percent after graduation.
Degree: MSN – 6 concentrations
12. Spring Hill College
Spring Hill College offers an affordable online degree program for nursing students who want to work on a master’s degree. The online degree program focuses on nurse leadership in a clinical setting and prepares students for the challenges they may face when balancing nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals in a facility or hospital.
Spring Hill College differs from other schools by offering fully online course material and working with local preceptors to help students gain hands-on skills. Students are able to gain experience by gaining skills in their local communities. The flexible approach ensures that nurses can keep up with course material and make use of the experience they gain at a job or while volunteering.
Highlight: Spring Hill College has an average class size of ten students, which ensures that students are able to discuss concerns or get help from faculty during their studies.
13. Cleveland State University
Cleveland State University offers a master’s of science in nursing through a hybrid online program. The affordable hybrid online program allows students to focus on their career goals and offers four concentrations in nursing: forensic nursing, specialized populations, nursing education, or clinical nurse leader. Students can select a concentration that fits their goals for a career and focus on gaining specialized skills in a specific area of nursing.
Cleveland State University recognizes the role of demographics in health outcomes and takes measures to ensure that students are aware of the variations that may exist in different groups. It also takes time to keep students up-to-date with cultural awareness to prevent misunderstandings when working in diverse clinical settings.
Highlight: Cleveland State University is ranked as the 3rd best program in Ohio for nursing by U.S. News and World Reports.
Degree: MSN – 4 concentrations – hybrid
14. Florida State University
Topping the list of the most affordable online MSN programs is the MSN Nurse Leader program offered by the Florida State University College of Nursing. This program is designed for nurses who are currently working in clinical positions but want to advance to a leadership role. Students learn financial, human, and resource management and are thoroughly prepared for their future roles as nurse leaders. This program includes clinical experiences and immersive projects that allow nurses to fully engage in the learning experience.
The Florida State University College of Nursing was established in 1950 and has had more than 7000 graduates. The school offers a personal touch and cares about the success of its students, not just as nursing students but as people. FSU Nursing graduates make a difference in their communities and all over the world.
Highlight: Students are required to complete 315 clinical hours during the course of the program.
Degree: MSN Nurse Leader
15. Eastern Kentucky University
Next on the list of the most affordable MSN programs is the Master of Science in Nursing from Eastern Kentucky University. The faculty works with members of the nursing profession to ensure that the curriculum focuses on the most pressing issues in nursing today. Graduates are prepared for the careers of the future in nursing and healthcare. The school is CCNE accredited and has high exam pass rates of 98% or higher for the first attempt.
Eastern Kentucky University Online allows students to take the same classes as their on-campus peers in a more flexible and convenient format. Online learning makes it easier for adult students to make time for school in their busy schedules. The school has six start dates for its online programs. Students receive the same degree as campus-based students. EKU uses Blackboard for its online courses.
Highlight: The MSN program is broken up into short, 8-week terms.
16. University of Colorado Colorado Springs
The Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences is also one of the most affordable online MSN programs. This program builds on the foundation of nursing knowledge and skills set down by the bachelor’s degree program. There are three options available: primary care family nurse practitioner, primary care adult/gero nurse practitioner, and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner. Students who enroll in the program gain health care policy, research, clinical problem solving, nursing theory, and critical thinking skills and experience.
The UCCS Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences helps nursing students meet the ever-changing needs of the healthcare industry. Students make personal connections and gain hands-on clinical experience that prepares them for the workforce. The College of Nursing has a 10-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, so students receive plenty of individualized attention.
Highlight: This program prepares nurses to work in senior clinics, internal medicine, family practice, college health, or mental health.
Degree: MSN – Nurse Practitioner
17. McKendree University
Another of the most affordable MSN programs is the MSN from the McKendree University School of Nursing and Health Professions. The program combines a convenient and flexible schedule with rigorous coursework and personalized student support. Faculty members care about their students and help them every step of the way. There are three concentrations to choose from: population health, nurse manager/administration, and nurse educator. Students can also opt to complete a dual MSN/MBA, which is a good choice for students who want to be in leadership positions in their organizations.
The Division of Nursing at the School of Nursing and Health Professions produces graduates with strong communication skills and deep knowledge of the nursing skills they need to succeed in today’s healthcare field.
Highlight: Most courses are eight weeks long, but some are 16 weeks long.
Degree: MSN – 4 concentrations
18. Herzing University
Herzing University offers three of the most affordable online MSN programs. Students can choose from family nurse practitioner (MSN-FNP), nursing leadership and administration (MSN-NLA), or nurse educator (MSN-NE). All three of these programs allow nurses to advance their careers by pursuing a higher level of education. The programs feature flexible scheduling and are taught by outstanding faculty members with real-world experience in what they teach.
At Herzing University, the three Cs are convenient, career-focused, and caring. All students receive individualized support throughout their educational journeys. The programs are flexible and convenient to meet the needs of busy adult learners. Herzing’s guiding principles are to engage students, optimize human potential, embrace innovation, ensure sustainability, create accessibility, improve the school’s value to students, pursue partnerships and collaboration, demonstrate effectiveness, and foster the school’s core values of respect, professionalism, caring, integrity, personal responsibility, and community engagement.
Highlight: These programs are for RNs who already hold a bachelor’s degree and want to pursue leadership positions in the field.
Degree: MSN – 3 concentrations
19. Xavier University
Xavier University also has one of the most affordable MSN programs. Completing the program can help nurses advance to a higher level in their careers and earn more money. Students learn the management and leadership skills they need to move into supervisory roles in the nursing field. This program is for Registered Nurses who already have a bachelor’s degree. There are three concentrations to choose from: general studies, education, or forensics. Graduates will be prepared to serve in leadership position in the healthcare field. This program is endorsed by the American Holistic Nurses Certification Corporation.
Xavier University is a Jesuit university that was established in 1831. The school prides itself on its diversity and inclusiveness and has been recognized for its excellence in academics and for the level of individualized attention given to students.
Highlight: The program is CCNE accredited and takes 2-3 years to complete.
20. University of Arizona
The University of Arizona’s College of Nursing offers an online RN to MSN that is one of the most affordable online MSN programs in the country. This program teaches the leadership skills need to advance to a supervisory or administrative position within the nursing field. Students gain the convenience and flexibility of an online learning experience as they learn the skills they need to succeed. Students learn teamwork, gain an understanding of economic business principles, and increase their confidence in their ability to lead others.
The College of Nursing at the University of Arizona has high pass rates for the NCLEX and the Arizona State Board of Nursing exam. The school is focused on technology, integrative health, and service to the community.
Highlight: The University of Arizona’s RN to MSN program can be completed online in as little as 15 months for students who hold a BSN.
Degree: RN to MSN
21. The Ohio State University
Next on the list of the most affordable MSN programs is the Traditional Master of Science in Nursing from The Ohio State University’s College of Nursing. This program is for student who hold a BSN or for Registered Nurses with a bachelor’s degree in any field. The program uses evidence-based practice, clinical experience, and coursework to prepare students for advanced practice nursing. Graduates will be ready to work in clinics, private practices, businesses, and hospitals as advanced practice nurses.
The vision of the College of Nursing at The Ohio State University is to improve lives and transform health. To that end, the school seeks to train top-notch researchers, leaders, nurses, and health professionals who are prepared to impact policy, promote wellness, and improve health outcomes in their communities.
Highlight: There are four concentrations to choose from: neonatal nurse practitioner, clinical nurse leader, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, and family nurse practitioner.
Degree: MSN – 4 concentrations
22. Queens University of Charlotte
The online Master of Science in Nursing from Queens University of Charlotte is one of the most affordable online MSN programs in the nation. The program transforms students into collaborative leaders who will work together to improve healthcare through advanced clinical practice, administration, or education. Students learn about nursing theory, informatics, health policy, and nursing research. There are three specializations to choose from: nurse educator, nurse administrator, or clinical nurse leader.
Queens University of Charlotte is a liberal arts college that is committed to training students in professional studies. The school’s online programs allow it to serve working adults around the globe. The Presbyterian School of Nursing has been providing outstanding nursing education for more than 100 years and is the third-largest producer of RNs in North Carolina.
Highlight: The program is CCNE-accredited and can be completed in as little as two years.
Degree: MSN – 3 concentrations
23. University of Cincinnati
The University of Cincinnati offers six of the most affordable MSN programs through the Cincinnati College of Nursing and UC Online. The programs are MSN family nurse practitioner, MSN adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, MSN women’s health nurse practitioner, MSN nurse-midwifery, MSN occupational health, and MSN nursing administration. These programs are all taught by professors who are APRN certified in the specialties they teach. Graduates are prepared to advance to leadership positions in their careers.
UC Online provides a flexible way for adult students to earn the degrees they need to get ahead in their careers. The school’s online programs consistently earn top rankings, and 87% of all graduates have offers for employment within 90 days. The school’s mission is to help adult students build a brighter future for themselves and their families.
Highlight: All students have access to student success coordinators who help them navigate through their educational programs.
Degree: MSN – 6 concentrations
24. Regis University
The Loretto Heights School of Nursing at Regis University offers four of the most affordable online MSN programs. The programs are Masters of Science in Nursing with concentrations in neonatal nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, completion for certified nurse practitioners, and leadership in healthcare systems. These programs are for students who hold a BSN and want to move into the elite group of nurses that hold a master’s degree in nursing.
Regis University offers a Jesuit Catholic education where students learn to see God in everything. The school encourages students to constantly think about how they should live their lives. The six core values of a Jesuit education are care for the person, a spirit of giving, being thoughtful and philosophical, unity of heart and mind, striving for excellence, and finding God in everything.
Highlight: The average Regis graduate earns a starting salary of $56,000.
Degree: MSN – 5 concentrations
25. University of Massachusetts Amherst
The College of Nursing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst offers a Master of Science in Nursing program that is one of the most affordable MSN programs around. There are three concentrations to choose from: nursing science, nursing education, or clinical nurse leader. The clinical nurse leader (MS-CNL) is an online program that trains nurses to take on the role of an Advanced Education Nurse Generalist. The nursing education concentration requires a practicum that cannot be completed online. The nursing science program is intended to be a step on the way to a PhD or DNP.
The College of Nursing focuses on discovery, learning, and innovation. The school trains nurses to be proficient in both nursing and leadership. Graduates are ready to make a difference in the healthcare world and throughout their communities. The school’s values are leadership, caring, innovation, excellence, lifelong learning, and diversity.
Highlight: Faculty members at the College of Nursing draw on their own research and clinical experience to enhance their teaching.
Degree: MSN – 3 concentrations
How Do I Find an Affordable Online MSN Program?
The cheapest MSN programs online are usually made available through publicly-funded colleges and universities. Although the classes are held online, in-state tuition rates are usually still honored. As an example, the cheapest online MSN programs for North Carolina students are likely to be found through the regional public universities like East Carolina University and UNC Wilmington. State colleges have the cheapest online masters in nursing programs because tuition is partially funded through taxpayer money.
Although state colleges are usually the best for cheap MSN online programs, the prospective student should also look at tuition prices for small private colleges. Smaller colleges attempt to boost enrollment numbers by offering reduced tuition costs to nursing majors. These programs are still high in quality, but not with the same expensive price tag as larger private universities.
The cheapest BSN to MSN online may also be found through technical colleges. Although most community and technical colleges only offer up to an online BSN degree, there are a select number that have bridge programs like RN to MSN or BSN to MSN, and many coordinate with universities to make sure their students’ credits will transfer.
Along with searching for the cheapest online MSN programs, the student should look into other factors that may play into the cost of the degree. As an example, even if the annual cost of the program is low, it’s important to see how long the degree track takes. If degree conferment will take over two years compared to a more expensive one-year program, then the one-year program may be less in the long run. Price is important when selecting MSN degree programs, but the student should also look at other features. As an example, confirm that the degree is accredited by a regional organization. Also, nurses may want an online program with specialization options such as nursing informatics, nursing educator, or family nurse practitioner.
The fact that the RN to MSN programs are done online also adds to their affordability. Online classes are a cost-effective solution since coursework can be done while the student continues to earn a salary as a registered nurse. No room and board or community costs apply to online degree programs.
Will an Employer Trust an Online MSN Degree?
Accredited online MSN programs have become a standard within the field. Employers no longer distinguish between traditional MSN graduates and graduates of accredited online MSN degree programs. Usually, the employer may want to look into what organizations accredited the degrees. Two of the most popular accrediting agencies are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). If the student finds accredited online MSN degree programs with accreditation from independent organizations, he or she may want to choose another program. Without regional accreditation, the program typically can’t receive any federal student aid such as grants and loans. Furthermore, without accreditation, credits can’t be transferred to another college program.
Another aspect that an employer will consider about the online MSN degree is the type of curriculum that the graduate followed. As long as the MSN degree included core classes as well as specialization classes, there won’t be a problem with hiring the nurse for an open position. Online degrees are so commonplace that usually the fact that the MSN was earned online doesn’t come up during the interview phase.