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Many words can describe 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, but one word really rises to the top: digital. With people working from home, “Zoom School” and an unprecedented e-commerce boom, it’s no wonder people are becoming savvier about an online existence.

While some experts argue an entire year of “living online” has been detrimental, there is also a wide range of benefits to operating in a digital environment. For example, an area that has seen rapid growth over the past few years is online nursing education programs — particularly for registered nurses (RNs) working towards their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

There are hundreds of nursing programs available across the United States, and many offer at least a partial online component. However, many RN to BSN programs across the United States are 100% online, with no in-classroom attendance required. Data from Inside Higher Ed reveals that more than 50% of RN to BSN programs were offered completely online in 2016, and “all but a handful of the rest offered significant online coursework.” That’s a stark contrast to 2011, where less than 30% of RN to BSN programs were offered completely online and 20% had no online offerings.

Why Are Online Programs Growing?

When looking at the growing popularity of online RN to BSN programs, two key factors rise to the surface: a supply and demand gap and a widespread call for highly trained nurses.

The healthcare industry is glaringly aware of the nursing shortage. The most recent data from the Bureau of Health Workforce database, as reported on by Nurse Journal, shows that in all 50 states, the average number of nurses per 1,000 individuals is only 12.06. South Carolina has the fewest nurses per 1,000 people at only 7.89. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a clear indicator that the U.S. simply does not have enough nurses.

Nurse Journal also states that in 2019, nursing ranked as the third-most in-demand job of any profession in the U.S., with no signs of slowing down. Yet, there’s a gap between available nursing jobs and the number of RNs graduating.

However, colleges and universities across the nation have recognized this supply-demand issue. One source,, states that the number of fully online RN to BSN programs in America has grown by more than a third in the last two years.

The demand for more BSN-prepared nurses has also boosted the availability of online nursing programs. The well-known 2010 “Future of Nursing” report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recommended increasing the number of RNs with BSN degrees from 50% to 80% by the year 2020. While that didn’t quite come to fruition, efforts to reach 80% by 2029 continue.

Some states, like New York, are taking measures to ensure they’re doing everything possible to reach that goal. New York State was the first state to enact legislation requiring RNs to earn a BSN degree within 10 years of becoming licensed with its “BSN in 10” law. While New York is the only state to pass a law, other states are considering a similar approach.

Advantages of Online RN to BSN Programs

Many nurses continue working full time while completing their online nursing degree. Others may earn their degree while working part-time. In fact, online RN to BSN programs often have very affordable tuition rates, making it possible for a good work-life-school balance. The RN to BSN online program at Mississippi College can be completed in as few as 12 months and has multiple start dates throughout the year.

Online-only curricula serve RNs who live in areas around the country. Nurses residing in small communities or remote areas can still further their education, thanks to the number of online options available. Plus, many programs have solid student support services. Nurses aren’t expected to navigate a digital experience alone. When they need help or have questions, staff and administration are there to answer the call.

Online nursing programs are not only here to stay — they are growing at a rapid pace. If the thought of “going back to school” has thus far held you back from advancing your career, these facts may give you a reason to reconsider.

Learn more about Mississippi College’s online RN to BSN program.

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