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Earn Your PhD in Nursing Education Online: Explore Top Programs

It’s time to pass the baton: Instead of being in the trenches, you’re ready to train up-and-coming nurses. Discover online PhD programs in nursing education to get you on that path.

Search hundreds of top schools for the doctorate YOU want.

Written By

Michael Hoffman

Last updated

Feb 19, 2024

Advancing your career while advancing the nursing profession: that’s what earning a PhD in nursing education online is all about. In fact, there may be no better way today to make a significant positive impact on your profession than by earning your nursing education doctorate and becoming a nurse educator or nursing education researcher. Another great reason to consider becoming a nurse educator? Job security. As a nursing professional, you’re already keenly aware of the continuing critical shortage of professionals on all levels and in all areas of the nursing field. And that includes nursing education. In fact, the serious shortage of nursing school faculty is a major contributing factor to the overall nursing shortage. That’s because the shortage of nurse educators has resulted in limitations to student class sizes at nursing schools, resulting in fewer newly trained nurses ready for the job market.

All of this adds up to one simple but important conclusion: the benefits to earning your nursing education PhD have never been greater. And there’s no easier and more affordable way to earn that degree than through a quality online PhD in nursing education. 

This guide offers an overview of the current landscape for online PhD in nursing education doctoral programs. We’ll introduce you to some of the best PhD in nursing education online programs available today. We’ll also fill you in on how those programs are structured and give you a preview of the specific topics you’ll cover in your online classes. Ready to take the next big step in your nursing career? Then keep reading to find out how to earn your PhD in nursing education online. 

School Spotlights: Top Nursing Education PhDs Online

A good way to start your program search is to take a look at what the top programs offer. We’ve surveyed the current online PhD in nursing education programs and selected three of the very best to spotlight below. Our choices were made by considering student-focused program elements, including affordability, academic quality, study convenience and flexibility, the availability of valuable student support services, and more. Here are the schools leading the pack for PhD in nursing education online programs in 2024.

Liberty University

Based in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University is a private university affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and a major provider of online degree programs on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Included in their degree offerings is a fully online PhD in Nursing – Nursing Education. The program’s 60-credit curriculum includes coursework in nursing, nursing education, and research, all of which is 100% online. Each course is presented in an eight-week format and delivered asynchronously, with optional synchronous online sessions with faculty and fellow students available most weeks of each semester. Following completion of all coursework, students are required to take and pass a comprehensive nursing exam and then move on to creating and defending a dissertation. Program length varies by student, but most complete their degree requirements in around three years.

Admission requirements for Liberty’s online PhD in Nursing Education program include an MSN degree from a regionally or nationally accredited program, a minimum 3.0 GPA in that program, and a minimum of one year of experience as a registered nurse. Current per-credit tuition rates are a very competitive $595 for full-time students and $650 for part-time students. A $300 per credit rate is available to qualifying current and former military service members and their spouses.

University of Northern Colorado

The University of Northern Colorado (UNC) is a public university with its main campus located in Greeley, Colorado, approximately 60 miles north of Denver. UNC’s Nursing Education PhD is committed to increasing the number of doctoral-level nurse educators to fill faculty roles in both healthcare organizations and academic settings. Program delivery is primarily online with all coursework entirely online. All students are, however, required to attend a five-day in-person orientation during July immediately prior to the start of their program in the fall. The orientation consists of two days on the main campus and three days at the Nurse Educator Conference in the Rockies in Breckenridge. The entire degree program can be completed in as few as four years, but students have the option of taking additional time to complete their dissertations.

The current per-credit tuition rate for this 66-credit hour program is $706 for all students regardless of state residency. This online PhD in nursing education has no additional student fees.

University of West Georgia

The University of West Georgia (UWG) is another excellent public university offering students a quality and highly affordable pathway to a nursing educator career with its online Doctorate in Nursing Education (EdD) program. As opposed to most PhD in nursing education online programs that also train students to fill positions in academic research, UWG’s EdD in nursing education places greater emphasis on preparing graduates to take on roles directly related to teaching new nurses (more on the difference between PhD and EdD programs below). The program is presented 100% online with classroom instruction delivered entirely in an asynchronous format, meaning that students can log on and attend to their coursework at any time that best suits their busy schedules. Both full-time (approximately 3 ½ years) and part-time (approximately 4 ½ years) study plans are available.

The tuition for this 60-credit program is $412 per credit. The program starts annually with the fall semester. Admissions are taken on a rolling basis until the fall cohort is filled.

EdD vs. PhD: Which Degree Is Right for You?

We’ve offered examples of the most common types of nursing education doctorates in the spotlights above: the PhD and the EdD. While there are plenty of similarities between the two, there are some differences as well. In the most general terms, if you’re seeking a career in academic research, a career as a nurse educator on the university level, or a career that combines both, your most likely choice will be an online PhD in nursing education. If your career interests lean more toward teaching only and not academic research or toward taking on a leadership position on a nursing school faculty or in nursing education outside traditional college settings, then an EdD program may be your best option.

However, when it comes to specific degree programs — what they offer and what they prepare graduates to do — it’s critical to understand that the lines between these two types of nursing education doctorates are often blurred. So, don’t dismiss any program out of hand before first speaking with a program representative. You don’t want to make the mistake of passing on what might be the best program for you simply because it’s labeled a PhD instead of an EdD or vice versa. 

Common Courses of Nursing Education PhD Programs 

The fundamental goal of online PhD in nursing education programs is to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to become nurse educators at the postsecondary level, as well as with other healthcare agencies and organizations. To give you an idea of the specific topics you’ll cover, here’s a look at six courses similar to those in most PhD in nursing education online programs.

Assessment and Evaluation in Nursing Education

This course is an examination of assessment and evaluation methods and strategies employed by educators in the full range of nursing education settings (including classroom, clinical, and online). Coursework includes a survey of current issues, research, and trends related to outcome measurements; alternatives to traditional evaluation methods; and the use of testing instruments. Students leave the course prepared to create, improve, and revise nursing education curricula.

Clinical Teaching and Preceptorship

A preceptor is an experienced clinician who acts as a coach or teacher in supervising nursing students during their clinical rotations. This course provides participants with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively fill preceptorship roles. Course outcomes include improvement of clinical, teaching, communication, and evaluation skills. Graduates are prepared to be role models contributing to the success of new nurses. 

Curriculum Development in Nursing Education

A foundational component of all PhD in nursing education online programs is to equip students with the tools and training to create, develop, implement, and evaluate effective nursing education curricula on all academic levels. Specific course topics include a review of the models applicable to curriculum and course design. Students also explore the curriculum development process and major educational, legal, regulatory, professional, and societal factors (including accreditation standards) influencing that process.

Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing Education

According to the American Nurses Association, evidence-based nursing practice involves “holistic, quality care based on the most up-to-date research and knowledge rather than traditional methods, advice from colleagues, or personal beliefs.” This course offers nurse educators a survey of evidence-based nursing and teaching theories, methods, and strategies. Students analyze factors that impact the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of curriculum related to evidence-based nursing practice.

Nursing Education Leadership and Administration

This course is designed to prepare nurse educators so they can then prepare new nurses to successfully fill roles in nursing administration and leadership in the full range of practice settings. Students begin by analyzing traditional and contemporary management and leadership theories and concepts. This is followed by an exploration of the challenges and issues that arise in everyday nursing administration and leadership.

Professional Development and Leadership

This course is an examination of the specific knowledge and skills relevant to nurse educators in the role of providing professional development training. Students are introduced to the many responsibilities of professional development nurse educators, including creating and managing professional development budgets, understanding an organization’s staffing and educational needs, collaborating with team leaders to identify and address unmet team needs, and ensuring that nurse educators are up to date on current state regulations and requirements for continuing education. 

Components of an Online PhD in Nursing Education

Along with course subject matter, having a clear understanding of the structure and specific requirements of your program’s curriculum is critical to your academic success. Below is a review of some of the most common components found in online PhD in nursing education programs.

Capstone Project or Dissertation

As a student in an online PhD or EdD in nursing education program, you can expect your course of study to culminate in the writing and defense of a doctoral dissertation. Completion times for the dissertation (research, writing, and defense) vary by program and individual student, but you can expect to invest at least one to two years in the process. However, most schools allow students more time, often up to seven years or more, for dissertation completion. Students pursuing the practice-oriented DNP in nursing education will likely be required to complete a scholarly evidenced-based capstone project instead of a dissertation.

Comprehensive Examinations

Comprehensive (sometimes called candidacy or preliminary) examinations are another common component of online PhD in nursing education programs. Comprehensive exams are taken following completion of the PhD program’s academic coursework. Comprehensive examinations, or comps, typically consist of both written and oral exams. The written exam allows the candidate to demonstrate a full understanding (scholarly synthesis and critical analysis) of the program’s academic course content. The oral exam, which follows successful completion of the written exam, is to assess the candidate’s mastery of doctoral-level scholarship in preparation for the dissertation process.


Most PhD in nursing education online programs begin with two years of academic coursework. This prepares students to design, research, implement, and evaluate educational programs for nurses, including postsecondary academic programs leading to nursing degrees and certificates. Specifically, course curricula prepare graduates to:

  • Contribute to nursing science through the creation of original scholarship and research.
  • Advance the nursing profession through leadership as a mentor and role model.
  • Develop and disseminate new and innovative approaches to the education of nurses and nursing scholars from diverse backgrounds and in diverse settings. 

Internships & Fieldwork

Most likely you won’t have to complete any form of internship, fieldwork, or similar activities as part of your online PhD in nursing education program. Some online EdD programs, however, do include in-person participation in one or more practicum experiences. For example, the primarily online EdD in Nursing Education program at Western Connecticut State University requires an educational practicum in a school setting (typically in the student’s state of residence) during the program’s second year. If you have any questions or concerns about possible internship, practicum, or other in-person field requirements, be sure to contact a program representative before signing on to a nursing education doctorate program.


Admission requirements or other prerequisites for PhD in nursing education online programs vary somewhat, but in most cases include these basic components:

  • Master of science in nursing (MSN) degree: Earned from a regionally or nationally accredited school and program. Most programs also require students to have earned their MSN with a stated minimum (typically 3.0) GPA.
  • Current and unencumbered RN license.
  • Practice experience as an RN: A minimum of one to two years is typical.
  • Additional application requirements include letters of recommendation, a personal statement or statement of intent, and current CV or resume.
  • International students may also be required to provide proof of English language proficiency.