The need for qualified, competent nurses has never been greater. A mounting physician shortage and an overall dearth of healthcare workers across the country — with more than 100 million people living in areas with a shortage of primary care professionals, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration — have led to increased demand for nurses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment of registered nurses (RNs) will grow by 6% over the next decade, double the national average for all occupations, while employment of advanced practice nurses will grow by a whopping 38%.

The demand for nurses has led to growing interest in nursing education. Those who are thinking about pursuing a nursing degree have many variables to consider when it comes to their education: What are my career goals? What type of nursing program will work best for me? How much will it cost? 

Another critical consideration is whether the institution or program they wish to attend is accredited, which can affect everything from their financial aid eligibility to their future job prospects. Understanding what nursing school accreditation means and its potential impact on an individual’s education and career is essential for any prospective nursing student.  

What Is Higher Education Accreditation?

In the simplest of terms, higher education accreditation verifies that an institution and its programs meet certain standards set by the accrediting organization. Accreditation is one of the main ways students, families, and government officials determine whether an institution or program provides a quality education. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, accreditation serves multiple purposes:

  • Assesses the quality of higher education institutions and their programs
  • Fosters a culture of continuous improvement at colleges and universities, as well as a general raising of academic standards among institutions
  • Establishes criteria for professional certification and licensure, and for upgrading courses that prepare students for certification and licensure 

In the United States, private, nongovernmental organizations perform accreditations. These organizations exist for the sole purpose of assessing the quality of higher education institutions. In many other countries, government organizations are responsible for this task. 

Nursing School Accreditation Explained

Nursing school accreditation can be given to a higher education institution that offers nursing programs, the specific nursing programs offered at the institution, or both. 

The specific criteria used to evaluate nursing education for accreditation vary based on the type of accreditation (programmatic or institutional) and the organization performing the evaluation. Generally, programmatic accreditation entails an assessment of the quality of the nursing program’s administrative resources, faculty, curriculum, and student supports, among other factors.

The United States has several programmatic accrediting bodies for nursing education, with the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) among the most prominent. 

Denver College of Nursing programs are accredited by both the ACEN and the CCNE. The school’s on-campus Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs are ACEN accredited, while the online RN to BSN and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs are CCNE accredited. 

Institutional accreditors, such as the Higher Learning Commission, evaluate colleges and universities based on factors such as the institution’s mission and integrity, along with the quality of education it provides. DCN is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Regional vs. National Accreditation

In addition to the difference between programmatic and institutional accreditation, there is also a difference between regional and national accreditation. National accreditation can apply to both institutional and programmatic accreditation. The CCNE and ACEN, for example, are both national organizations that exclusively accredit nursing programs. Regional accreditors, such as the Higher Learning Commission, which has jurisdiction over 19 states, accredit entire institutions. 

While it’s valuable for institutions and their programs to have both regional and national accreditation, regional accreditation tends to have more rigorous standards than national accreditation and thus carries a higher level of prestige in the eyes of some individuals, including many employers. 

Attending a regionally accredited school can be very beneficial to students. Not only are these students assured that the quality of their education will be high, they also generally have more opportunities to transfer to another regionally accredited school, even one in another part of the country, than students attending schools that are not regionally accredited.

What Accreditation Does a Nursing School Need?

When researching institutions, prospective nursing students may wonder what kind of accreditation a nursing school needs. Strictly speaking, pursuing accreditation is voluntary. However, whether or not an institution or program is accredited can have significant implications for both students and institutions.

Both institutional and programmatic accreditation carry several benefits. For colleges and universities, accreditation can help them recruit students, highlight areas of their curriculum that need improvement, and lead to professional development opportunities for their faculty. For students, attending an accredited institution can affect them in the following ways:

  • Eligibility for federal and state funding. Students seeking federal grants and/or loans must attend an accredited institution or program. Accreditation is also a requirement for eligibility for state grants and loans in certain states.  
  • Eligibility for tuition assistance. Employers may use the accreditation status of an institution to decide whether to provide tuition assistance to their current employees. 
  • Ability to transfer credits. Students who wish to transfer to a new school generally have better luck transferring their credits if the institution they’re transferring from is accredited. 
  • Employment prospects. Employers often look more favorably on candidates who have graduated from an accredited institution or program, and some organizations even require it as a condition of employment.

Nursing school accreditation benefits the public as well. Accreditation signals to the public that an institution offers a high-quality nursing education, ensuring that graduates are well prepared to provide superior patient care. Furthermore, accreditation ensures that nursing programs across the country are held to common standards of quality, so that a nurse educated in Colorado, for example, and a nurse educated in Pennsylvania can both perform their duties with equal competence. 

Join the Future of Healthcare With a Nursing Degree

As the nation’s healthcare needs grow, nurses will continue to be in demand. Investing in a nursing education can help you start or advance your career and give you an opportunity to make a difference in your community. 

Carrying both programmatic and institutional accreditation, Denver College of Nursing offers a high-quality education focused solely on the art and science of nursing. Learn more about how enrolling in one of DCN’s programs can help prepare you for a meaningful nursing career, whether you’re seeking to enter the profession or take your career to new heights. 

Recommended Readings
What Is a BSN Completion Program and How Does It Work?
7 Tips to Polish Your LinkedIn Profile as a Nurse
Pushing the Profession Forward: Kendal Bailey Keeps Learning

Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, ACEN 2023 Standards and Criteria
Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Benefits of Accreditation
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, CCNE Accreditation Process
Association of American Medical Colleges, “AAMC Supports Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2023”
Council for Higher Education Accreditation, About Accreditation
Council for Higher Education Accreditation, Regional Accrediting Organizations
Health Resources and Services Administration, Health Workforce Shortage Areas
Higher Learning Commission, Policy Title: Criteria for Accreditation
Indeed, “National vs. Regional Accreditation: What’s the Difference?”
NursingCAS, “What’s the Deal With Accreditation?”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses
U.S. Department of Education, Accreditation in the United States 
U.S. Department of Education, Accreditation in the U.S.