How Schools are Selected

With all kinds of established responsibilities already demanding their attention, degree-seeking adults bring particular needs to their higher education. They need classes and services to work for their schedules. The courses should be affordable. The quality should be on par with full-time, on-campus programs. The degrees should be swiftly achievable, and they should help students advance in their field. A nursing program should facilitate present success just as much as it will support future success.

At Abound, we sift through the nation’s offerings of nursing programs and select schools in accordance with our criteria. Ultimately, we believe that higher education is worth the investment so long as it meets our qualifications, which are based on accessibilityaffordabilityacceleration, and advancement.

Building Our Award Lists

For the 2024 academic year, we have created two awards for deserving nursing schools; the Best Master’s in Nursing and the Best Bachelor’s of Nursing. Any school that received one or both of these awards was named to our Best Nursing Programs award list as well.

Each list has a balance of programs that vary by location, size, religious affiliation, public or private status, and prestige. Different students thrive in different environments, so the diversity of cultures, available resources, and teaching styles give everyone something to choose from. Schools are not ranked from top to bottom, but are rather presented as a whole to celebrate the merit of their unique set of programs, class format options, and resources.

We only consider nursing programs accredited at the bachelor’s or master’s level by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). From that point, we removed from consideration any for-profit programs as well as those with reported quality issues, low affordability marks, and less-than-stellar outcomes indicators for nursing graduates (e.g. median earnings data).

Our data come from the National Center for Education Statistics and the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard.

Best Master’s in Nursing

We considered every public and private-not-for-profit college in the NCES database that reported awarding at least 8 master’s in nursing degrees. Our team looked at a number of available data, including:

  • Percentage of full-time faculty members with doctoral degrees
  • Student-to-faculty ratio for grad students
  • Nursing master’s program size in relation to other master’s at the school
  • Nursing master’s program size in relation other schools in the state
  • Median earnings of graduates working 4 years after degree completion
  • Median Stafford and Grad PLUS loan debt disbursed at the institution

Our analysis also included the score earned for our Best Graduate Schools award, which takes into account a program’s flexibility, affordability, campus resources, and more.

After narrowing down our list to the schools that performed well on the above metrics, we also looked at schools’ websites and online reviews. Here, we were looking for how the school performed along the lines of our Four A’s, such as their commitment to flexibility, quality of teaching staff, usefulness of the online resources, and more.

Using all of the information above, our team went region by region, state by state, and even school by school to narrow down our list. To further combat the statistical bias that tends only to put a certain type of institution at the top of rankings lists, we made sure to adjust our cohort to have a more representative distribution of school locations, school sizes, religious affiliations, public schools, private schools, and student populations. The cultures, available resources, and teaching styles all cater to specific students, so we ensure that all students have an equal variety to choose from.

Best Bachelor’s in Nursing

For our Best Bachelor’s in Nursing award, we looked at a set of data similar to our master’s award. Programs must have awarded at least 30 bachelor’s of nursing. Statistics we looked at include:

  • Percentage of full-time faculty members with doctoral degrees
  • Student-to-faculty ratio for undergraduate students
  • 6-year graduation rates for all undergraduate students
  • 6-year graduation rates for Pell Grant undergraduate students
  • Whether the school offers an online undergraduate degree in nursing
  • Median earnings of graduates working 4 years after degree completion
  • Median Stafford and Grad PLUS loan debt disbursed at the institution

The scores created for our Best Online Colleges and Best Colleges for Adults awards were consulted alongside the stats above.

With these data points in mind, we narrowed down our list to the programs that performed well across the board. Using the framework of the Four A’s, we then turned our attention to school websites and public student reviews to get a better picture of each program’s fitness. We eliminated any schools with glaring weaknesses in this review.

As with our other lists, our team worked through the final list to balance the cohort by including schools from a variety of areas and with a variety of student body makeups.

Best Nursing Programs

Any institution that earned either one or both of the accolades described above were included in our roster of the Best Nursing Programs award recipients.

The Four A’s


Open to adult and online students in their use of campus resources. The institution welcomes its flexible/adult nursing students to use its available parking, academic services, libraries, test-taking services, and more.

A model in flexible scheduling. The school offers courses in the evening, weekends, or online to allow adult students to fit their education around other commitments, like family and work.

Availability of resources. Resources are available when adult students are “going to class.” The institution offers student services outside of normal business hours, such as financial aid, registrar, admissions, IT, tutoring, and more.


Transparent about its offerings and program. The school clearly lays out all information about degree costs, time requirements, and degree plan options for working students seeking a degree in nursing.

Transparent about affordability assistance. Through financial aid, reduced tuition, scholarships, grants, and agreements with employers offering tuition-assistance plans, the institution is committed to making the degree affordable.


A standard-setter in academic integrity. The school uses proctors or auditing to ensure the academic integrity of their students and their programs.

A leader in accelerating a student’s time to completion. The school offers students a direct path to their degree in the most timely and cost-effective way—including shorter sessions offered year-round.


Committed to the academic, personal, and professional success of adult students. The institution has dedicated offices, facilities, and trained staff on campus and online to provide academic support as well as a network for the development of students’ personal and professional goals.

The school offers experiential learning to all students. Every program, whether online, weekend, or part-time, offers experiential learning opportunities to take course content from theory to application. This may include receiving course credit through competency based education, clinical experiences, practicums, or simulations.

A leader in its discipline with faculty who are experts in the field as well as in the classroom. The school invests in hiring faculty who aren’t just thought leaders, but experts with real-world nursing experience who can draw from that with practical examples to make the learning experience tangible.

Committed to the continual improvement and growth of their program. The school is fully invested in its nursing programs, be it online, blended, or on campus. The institution seeks opportunities to strengthen its program standards and self-assess its curricula, learning outcomes, and faculty development.

Additional Nominations

We recognize that statistical models for things as complex as higher education can leave out institutions that deserve to be celebrated, regardless of how thoroughly we conduct our search. That’s why we invite nominations from administrators, faculty, and counselors to review schools to add to our cohort. Based on the nomination and vetting process that we’ve used throughout Colleges of Distinction’s 24-year operation, we’ve found that this greatly benefits our cohort at Abound.

Schools that fall outside of our assigned parameters can choose to go through a selection process that includes a team review, survey request and, when appropriate, an interview with the administration. Our team looks over the schools adult and online website sections to look at the size of staff, resources available to students, and the transparency of the information provided.

Our application and interview consist of a variety of questions that return back to the principles of our Four A’s. Questions cover the breadth of online programming and how long it has been in place, when and in what format classes are offered, and how students are supported efficiently and effectively through their education.

If you are interested in nominating an institution for inclusion, please fill out this form, and we’ll get in touch.