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Data Spotlight: Distance Education in Master’s Nursing Programs

Published April 14, 2021

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, distance education (DE) is on the rise in US higher education. DE also has been on the rise within post-entry master’s nursing programs, according to AACN annual survey data. We define distance education as programs offering 51% or more of the program curricula online.  This survey data, presented in Table 1, indicates that from 2015 to 2019, the number of US schools reporting less than 51% or 51% or greater of DE for their post-entry master’s nursing programs. Additionally, in Figure 1, the South and the Midwest regions both exceeded the national average for post-entry master’s schools offering >51% of DE programs. The largest point difference across the regions for schools reporting >51% DE was in the Midwest with a 14.9-point difference in the percentages from 2015 to 2019. Overall, all regions are showing a steady increase in programs offering >51% of DE.

Figure 2 provides evidence that over the past 5 years there has been an increasing proportion of post-entry master’s nursing students enrolling in programs that are > 51% DE. This increase in DE enrollment mirrors the upward trend in the number of DE programs at the post-entry master’s level. The demand for DE has continued to increase, and nursing has embraced DE with the expansion of programs offered online. Continued growth in distance education can contribute to improved access to education, increased flexibility to students, and the overall advancement of nursing education.

Table 1. Post-Entry Master’s Programs Reporting Percentage of Distance Education, 2015 to 2019

Regions

2015 Program Counts

2016 Program Counts

2017 Program Counts

2018 Program Counts

2019 Program Counts

 

<51%

≥51%

<51%

≥51%

<51%

≥51%

<51%

≥51%

<51%

≥51%

National

272

242

293

268

275

290

240

316

228

348

Midwest

68

75

74

82

68

88

59

92

50

103

South

75

95

81

106

72

121

61

127

61

135

West

40

34

46

38

44

38

36

46

35

50

North Atlantic

89

38

92

42

91

43

84

51

82

60

 

Figure 1. Regional Percentage of Post-Entry Master’s Nursing Programs with >51% Distance Education

Figure 2. Students Enrolled  in Post-Entry Master’s Programs by  Percentage of Distance Education, 2015-2019

*Due to the variability in responses and potential COVID-19 effects, 2020 data is not included.

For more information on AACN’s position on distance education, visit: https://www.aacnnursing.org/News-Information/Position-Statements-White-Papers/Distance-Education

If you have any suggestions for future Data Spotlight topics, please email them to datarequest@aacnnursing.org.  

 

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