Methodology for Fortune’s ranking of online master’s in nursing (MSN) programs

BY Meghan MalasAugust 04, 2022, 12:54 PM
Illustration by Martin Laksman

The demand for nurses was impossible to ignore alongside several overwhelming surges of COVID-19 cases in the past couple of years. But even before the pandemic, job outlook estimates for advanced nursing occupations were steep. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 121,400 advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs)—including nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives—will be added to the U.S. workforce between 2020 and 2030. That’s a 45% growth in employment for nursing jobs that require master’s degrees.

The projected increase in APRNs is due to an overall increase in the demand for healthcare services, caused by multiple factors, including the U.S.’s aging population and an increased focus on preventative care in the industry, the Bureau of Labor statistics says. And the need for nurse practitioners is particularly high, with a 52% increase in nurse practitioner jobs expected by 2030.

Online master’s degree programs in nursing provide nurses a path into an APRN career by enabling them to remotely earn their degree from top-ranked programs. These online programs offer more flexibility than an in-person master’s degree program in nursing, but still deliver the guidance and curriculum required for licensure. The online path is a critical part of meeting the stark demand for APRNs in the coming years, which is why Fortune is launching its inaugural ranking of online master’s in nursing (MSN) programs. In total, we ranked 44 online MSN programs. 

Our final ranking is made up of three components: Selectivity Score, Success Score, and Demand Score.

Selectivity Score (55%)

The best MSN programs have a top-notch curriculum taught by world class professors, and that’s not all: They should also attract some of the brightest students. The post-graduation success (or lack thereof ) of those alumni helps to shape how the outside world will view a program. It’s also why Fortune put so much weight on the strength of a school’s incoming class.

To calculate the Selectivity Score, we first looked at the average undergraduate GPA of incoming students, and then we weighted the program’s acceptance rate. Simply put: Programs that are challenging to get accepted into attracted a stronger cohort of students.

Success Score (40%)

To hold programs accountable for their success, we measured both one-year retention rates and graduation rates.

Demand Score (5%)

If programs aren’t successful, they won’t be able to continue to attract and graduate top students year after year. What’s more, a larger student body also means a larger alumni network. That’s why we measured the total size of a program’s most recent graduating class.