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When William Yeats described education as “not filling a bucket but lighting a fire,” he might as well have been addressing Certified Nurse Educators (CNEs). Nursing educators instill the knowledge and passion one needs to save lives and set the foundation for safe and effective practice for years to come. They are vital but as experts warn, in too-short supply.

The National League for Nursing (NLN) created the CNE designation in 2009 to identify educators prepared to engage in nearly every step of nursing education, from designing curricula and instructing students to evaluating and improving programs and outcomes. Put simply, CNEs make sure nurses know how to deliver proper medical care under even the most intense pressure. While not a formal advanced practice nursing specialization, the CNE is an advanced credential; only licensed registered nurses (RNs) with approved master’s or doctoral degrees in nursing education can sit for the CNE exam.

The NLN, nursing schools, and healthcare experts warn that the United States needs far more CNEs. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), faculty shortages force nursing schools to turn away thousands of qualified applicants each year. Resulting limited class sizes only exacerbate disparities in healthcare access, especially in rural and high-need communities.

This guide details how to become a CNE, including a discussion of online nurse educator programs and professors.

Admissions – Online Nursing Education Programs

It is impossible to create a universal list of CNE program admissions requirements. There are many pathways to becoming a CNE, and requirements depend on which one chooses. Licensed RNs with the following credentials are eligible to sit for the CNE exam. Note that accelerated RN-to-MSN, BSN-to-MSN, MSN-to-DNP, and other bridge programs are acceptable so long as the resulting degree meets one of these requirements:

  • A Master of Science in Nursing with an emphasis in nursing education (MSN-CNE)
  • A Doctor of Nursing Practice with an emphasis nursing education (DNP-CNE)
  • A Post-master’s certificate in nursing education
  • MSN or DNP with at least nine graduate-level education courses
  • MSN and Doctor of Education (EdD) in nursing education
  • MSN and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in nursing education
  • MSN and at least two years of employment in an academic nursing program within the past five years

Here are some of the most common admissions requirements for online CNE programs.

Admissions – Online MSN in Nursing Education Programs

  • A complete admissions application
  • For traditional MSNs: An accredited (see below) Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree
  • For bridge programs: an accredited BSN, Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), or nursing diploma, depending on one’s state
  • A current RN license
  • Official college transcripts
  • An undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 or GRE score of at least 290
  • Copy of a current government-issued photo ID
  • Personal essay describing education and career goals
  • Two or three letters of recommendation from employers and instructors
  • A drug screening and background check
  • Immunization and other health records
  • Admissions interview conducted on campus or online

Admissions – Online DNP and Other Doctoral Nursing Education Programs

  • A complete admissions application
  • An accredited MSN or, for bridge programs, BSN degree
  • A current RN license
  • Official college transcripts
  • A combined GPA of at least 3.0
  • Two years of nursing experience
  • Copy of a current government-issued photo ID
  • Admissions interview online or on campus
  • A drug screening and background check
  • Immunization and other health records

Admissions – Online Nursing Education Certificate Programs

Admissions requirements for other types of CNE programs tend to mirror those of the programs outlined above, though postgraduate certificates are shorter and more focused. Online CNE graduate certificate applicants need MSN degrees, but are less likely to require interviews, health records, and GRE scores. Students are encouraged to review admissions specifics before beginning their applications.

Coursework – Online CNE Programs

Like admission standards, CNE curricula vary by school and degree level. The following are real classes from online CNE master’s, doctoral and certificate programs. They are only examples, however: potential students should review course requirements and electives carefully. Recall that graduates with MSNs and DPNs in virtually any specialty area are CNE-eligible if they meet any of the requirements listed above. Students should contact their State Boards of Nursing to ensure programs meet not just NLN eligibility standards but also state nursing faculty requirements as well.

Online MSN in Nursing Education

Online MSN programs typically require two years of full-time study, though nurses with the right education background may qualify for accelerated programs. Online MSN, RN-to-MSN, and BSN-to-MSN CNE programs balance coursework typically of any MSN program with specialized nursing education courses like the following:

  • The Role of Nurse Educators
  • Curriculum Design in Nursing Education
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Assessment and Evaluation of Nursing Education
  • Nursing Assessment and Evaluation
  • Teaching and Learning for Nurse Educators
  • Practicum of about 120 immersion hours, typically in students’ home communities
  • Capstone thesis or exam

Online DNPs or PhDs in Nursing Education

According to the NLN, at least one-fourth of all full-time nursing faculty positions require a doctorate. Online DNP and PhD programs typically require at least three years of full-time study, but accelerated and other specialty programs can reduce one’s final time-to-completion. Prospective and practicing CNEs considering administrative positions may want to consider DNP in Education Leadership programs. Sample DNP, MSN-to-DNP, and PhD in nursing education courses include:

  • Effective Nursing Leadership
  • Learner-Centered Nursing Curriculum Design and Learning Outcomes
  • Data-Driven Health Care Improvements
  • Organizational Dynamics of Nursing Schools
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Health Informatics
  • Role of Technology and Simulation in Nursing Education
  • Immersion Residency, usually in one’s own community
  • Capstone thesis

Online EdDs in Nursing Education

Online EdDs in Nursing Education generally cater to two types of students: 1) CNE candidates with MSNs working toward the NLN’s nine-hour graduate education eligibility option, or 2) practicing CNEs seeking full-time or administrative positions. Most EdD programs require about three years of full-time study. Typical courses include:

  • Current Trends and Issues in Nursing Education
  • Education and Health Care Policy Analysis
  • Quantitative Research in Nursing
  • Distance Education in Nursing
  • Nursing Education Ethics
  • Scholarly Writing
  • Theoretical Foundations of Nursing Education
  • Dissertation

Online Graduate Certificates in Nursing Education

Candidates with MSN or DNP degrees in specialties other than nursing education are eligible for CNE certification if they have an NLN-approved graduate certificate in nursing education. Graduate CNE certificate programs are highly focused so students may be able to complete them in as little as one semester of full-time study. Common post-master’s CNE certificate courses:

  • The Professorial Role in Nursing Education
  • Instructional Technology for Learning-Centered Teaching
  • Healthcare Curriculum Design and Assessment
  • The NLN Certified Nurse Education Exam: Overview
  • The NLN Certified Nurse Education Exam: Preparation
  • Nurse Educator Practicum

Accreditation & State Authorization

National League for Nursing (NLN) CNE eligibility requirements are only one consideration when examining programs. Accreditation and state authorization determine a credential’s legal and professional worth; potential applicants should remain wary of any school that fails to clarify either. Here’s why:

CNE Program Accreditation

Accreditation signals that an independent body evaluated a particular program and confirmed it meets established quality standards in areas like instruction, curricular design, and financial procedures. Online programs are usually accredited on an institutional, departmental and programmatic basis. Future CNEs should look for nursing education programs accredited by the AACN’s Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), and state, regional or national agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Graduate schools and some employers will only accept candidates with accredited degrees. Accreditation can also determine one’s financial aid eligibility.

Online CNE Program State Authorization

The importance of state authorization cannot be overstated: prospective students cannot legally attend online CNE programs not authorized by the states in which they live. That means that an institution in, say, Georgia may be permitted to market and deliver online courses to students in one state, but not another. Most online nursing programs clarify relevant state regulations on their official websites, but students should always contact schools directly for the most current information available.

Online MSN in Nursing Education Programs

Featured Nurse Educator Programs

Johns Hopkins School of Nursing

Nurse Educator Certificate

Regis College

Online MSN to DNP - Nurse Education

Duquesne University

Online MSN - Nursing Education

Post-Master's Certificate - Nursing Education

Jacksonville University, or JU Online, offers a fully-online MSN with a specialization in Clinical Nurse Education. The CCNE-accredited two-year program teaches students how to research, implement, and assess developmentally appropriate teaching methods and evaluate clinical research. It also includes an optional Capstone Nursing Theory and Research project and a mandatory advanced role practicum, which students can complete locally. The online MSN is held in high regard: U.S. News & World Report (2016) ranked JU Online among the top online graduate nursing schools in the nation. Tuition for the online MSN during the 2016-2017 academic year was $685 per semester hour. Other JU online nursing options include an accelerated RN-to-MSN in Nursing Education program and a CNE postgraduate certificate. Students are advised to contact JU Online to verify state authorization.

The University of North Carolina, Charlotte’s three-year, part-time MSN in Nursing Education is a fully-online program preparing students for advanced practice in nursing education. Coursework covers a wide breadth of topics designed to meet North Carolina’s requirements for nurse educators and those for CNE eligibility. Online MSN-NE students must also complete 180 hours in their clinical specialty, and 15 supervised teaching hours, individually arranged near their homes. They must also develop a portfolio highlighting their expertise in nursing education. Students living outside of North Carolina can visit UNCC’s website to verify authorization by state. As of 2017, the University estimated that state residents would pay $9,282 in tuition and fees over the course of the entire online MSN-NE program; the estimated cost for non-residents: $33,501.

Western Governors University was designated an official NLN Center of Excellence in Nursing Education in 2015, a benefit for students pursuing its online BSN-to-MSN in the specialization. Unlike most online nursing schools, WGU uses a competency-based educational model that allows students to earn credit using a combination of independent study, practical experience, and assessment. In other words, students receive faculty mentorship and advisement but take no formal courses. Tuition is therefore based on six-month terms rather than individual credit hours. For example, WGU estimated in 2017 that online BSN-to-MSN in Nursing Education students who complete their studies in 18 months will pay an estimated $9,750 in tuition and fees by the time they graduate. Those attending longer will pay more. State authorization information is available in WGU’s Institutional Catalog.

Online Doctorates in Nursing Education

Based in Greeley, the University of Northern Colorado’s four-year online Nursing Education PhD aims to hone expertise in both teaching and educational research. While students can complete all regular coursework online, they must attend a six-day orientation and nursing conference the summer before beginning their studies. They need only return to campus to propose and defend a thesis and complete oral comprehensive exams, activities that one can typically combine into single visits. Tuition for in- and out-of-state residents attending UNC in 2017 was $600 per credit hour. Notably, the University is authorized to enroll online students from all 50 states.

The University of Cincinnati offers future CNEs a concurrent online MSN-to-DNP and Nursing Education certificate option. Students who pursue this option earn specialty certification in a particular nursing area, like midwifery, nurse administration, and others, while concurrently completing fully-online CNE certificate courses. Successful students will earn both credentials upon graduation. According to UC, the online MSN-to-DNP option follows a block format in which students complete any on-site requirements in a single week-long campus visit each semester, or one to two visits each year. They can complete all remaining coursework online. Full-time online DNP students living in Ohio paid $7,797 per term in tuition and fees (2017); non-residents paid only slightly more: $7,947. Prospective students can review specific state regulations online. U.S. News & World Report ranked UC among the top five online nursing graduate schools in 2017.

Online CNE Graduate Certificates

Based in Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University’s online Nursing Education certificate is a post-graduate program for experienced nurses with master’s or doctoral degrees. Courses cover evidence-based practice and research skills; curricula design; and teaching and assessment strategies for both online and face-to-face instruction. According to JHU, students who earn Nurse Educator certification are prepared to work in nursing programs in instructional or administrative roles, though some choose to maintain dual roles as care providers and educators. As of 2017, tuition and fees for JHU’s online nursing education certificate was $1,544 per credit hour. In 2017, U.S. News & World Report named JHU one the top five online nursing graduate schools.

Online Nursing Education Professors to Know