Is Nursing School Accreditation Important?

Beth Hawkes MSN, RN-BC - 03/18/19

Lindsay, an ADN nurse in ICU, decided it was time to pursue her BSN. She knew it would be a huge commitment of time and money and wanted to choose the right program. She knew of a friend whose pricey for-profit school declared bankruptcy and closed down before graduation, leaving her with credits no other school would accept. Lindsay did not want to make a similar mistake.

Several colleagues at work were also in school and they compared their various online programs in terms of cost, length of study, and difficulty. One term Lindsay heard was “accreditation” but she really didn’t know what it meant.

Accreditation is important when choosing a nursing program and can affect employability, access to financial aid, and even graduation. The purpose of this article is to help nursing students make an informed decision regarding school accreditation when starting school and returning to school.

BON/BRN Approval is Not Accreditation

Be careful not to confuse state Board of Nursing/Board of Registered Nurses (BON/BRN) approval with accreditation. Nursing programs must have BON/BRN approval in order for graduates to be eligible for the NCLEX licensing exam after graduation.

Nursing program approval means the program meets certain specific criteria. Each state sets its own criteria and standards for approval of nursing curriculum and required hours.

BON/BRN approval does not mean the school is accredited and the BON/BRN does not accredit nursing schools. The list of BON/BRN approved nursing programs in your state may include both accredited and non-accredited programs.

Accreditation is Voluntary

Accreditation of nursing school programs is voluntary. Given that accreditation costs money and is not required by the BON/BRN, why then would a college or a nursing program seek accreditation?

Accreditation means that certain quality standards are met, and signals a commitment to excellence.

Like hospital accreditation, nursing program accreditation can be lost, and schools are subject to visits and audits.

College Accreditation is Not Nursing Program Accreditation

At the institution-wide level, colleges, including online colleges, can be accredited regionally, nationally, or both. National accreditation is not the same as regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is preferable to national accreditation because credits from regionally accredited institutions are more readily transferable.

Some employers limit tuition reimbursement to regionally accredited schools.

However, accreditation for a nursing program is separate from accreditation for the college as a whole. So a college could be regionally accredited with a non-accredited nursing program. Let’s look at nursing program accreditations.

Nursing Program Accreditation

Here’s where it gets specific to nursing programs. There are two primary accrediting bodies for nursing programs. One is not necessarily better than the other.

The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) formerly known as the National League for Nursing (NLN) Accrediting Commission, accredits clinical doctorate, master’s, baccalaureate, associate, diploma, and practical nursing programs.

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), an arm of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) accredits only clinical doctorate, masters, and baccalaureatelevel nursing education programs.

Note: Nurse Anesthesia programs are accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) while midwifery programs are accredited by the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM).

Programs that are accredited prominently display either the ACEN or CCNE logo on their web page.

Choosing a Non-Accredited Nursing Program

While accreditation is a mark of achievement and commitment of excellence, there are nursing programs that are excellent and are not accredited. Carefully considering a non-accredited program can give you more options and be a flexible choice for some.

An example would be an ADN nursing program in XYZ regionally accredited community college. While the nursing program did not seek accreditation due to cost, the program is highly respected in the community and the graduates are sought after by the major hospitals. The community college has a transfer agreement with partnering universities so that transfer of credit is seamless between schools, enabling higher education.

When considering a non-accredited nursing program ask the following:

  • Do hospitals in your area hire graduates from the non-accredited program?
  • Does the program have an agreement of transfer credits with higher-level schools to pursue your BSN and MSN?
  • What are the graduation and retention rates?
  • What is the NCLEX pass rate?
  • How many qualified applicants are waitlisted or denied entrance?
  • How many graduates find employment?

Be sure and contact the institution’s admissions and registration department to learn about transfer of credit policies to a higher education program.

It’s important to perform due diligence when choosing a nursing program, and understanding accreditation is an essential component. Taking enough time and asking the right questions helps to find the right school for you.