Nursing Accreditation Guide: CCNE, ACEN, and More

Written by: Applied Nursing Research Editorial Team   •  May 19, 2024

Nursing Accreditation Guide

If you’re considering a career in nursing, one of the most crucial factors to consider is whether your chosen nursing school or program is accredited. But what exactly does that mean? And why is it so important? 

To become a nurse, you need to understand what nursing accreditation is, the types of accreditation available, and why accreditation is critical to your education.

What Is Nursing Accreditation?

Nursing accreditation is an evaluative process that nursing schools and programs undergo to ensure they meet established quality standards. These standards pertain to the school’s mission, faculty qualifications, curriculum, student services, and more. Accreditation serves as a benchmark for educational excellence, guaranteeing that the program you choose will provide you with the academic and practical skills needed to succeed in nursing.

Why Is Accreditation Essential in Nursing Education?

If you attend a program that is not accredited, you may find it difficult to obtain licensure, certifications, or even a job post-graduation. Nursing accreditation ensures that you are receiving an education that is recognized and respected within the healthcare community. Moreover, accredited nursing programs are more likely to provide a curriculum aligned with industry needs and best practices.

Nursing Accreditation Standards

The process of gaining nursing accreditation is rigorous, involving a deep dive into various facets of a nursing program. Some of the general standards that accredited nursing schools must meet include the following:

Faculty Requirements

Accredited nursing programs must have faculty members who are qualified to teach the courses assigned to them. These faculty members usually hold advanced degrees in nursing or healthcare and have professional experience in the field.


The curriculum should be comprehensive and designed to meet the educational outcomes of the nursing program. It should include both theoretical and practical components, such as classroom instruction and clinical rotations, to adequately prepare students for real-world nursing roles.

Facilities and Student Resources

Accredited schools are required to have the necessary facilities and resources, including but not limited to libraries, laboratories, and clinical settings, to support student learning.

Quality Assessment

Continuous improvement is another hallmark of accredited nursing programs. Schools must regularly assess and update their programs to meet evolving healthcare needs and accreditation standards.

By adhering to these standards, accredited nursing programs ensure that they offer high-quality education that equips students with the essential knowledge and skills to excel in their nursing careers.

The Importance of Nursing Accreditation

Choosing an accredited nursing school is not just a box to tick off your educational checklist; it’s a decision that can have far-reaching implications for your career. Below are some of the key reasons why nursing accreditation matters:

Licensure and Certification Eligibility

Most state nursing boards require candidates to have graduated from an accredited nursing program to become licensed registered nurses (RNs). Similarly, many specialized nursing certifications, such as those for nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists, also demand education from an accredited program as a basic eligibility criterion.

Employment Opportunities

Employers often prefer to hire nurses who have graduated from accredited nursing programs. Accreditation is seen as a mark of quality and assurance that the nurse has received an education that meets national standards for nursing practice. As such, you’ll find that you are more competitive in the job market.

Advancing Your Education

Should you decide to pursue further education like a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, having an undergraduate degree from an accredited program is often a prerequisite. Accredited schools usually only accept credits from other accredited institutions.

Financial Aid Availability

Federal financial aid is generally only available to students who enroll in accredited schools. By choosing an accredited nursing program, you’ll have access to a broader range of financial aid options, including grants, scholarships, and student loans.

Professional Development

Attending an accredited program exposes you to a high standard of nursing practice and education. You’ll be better prepared for the challenges of healthcare settings and stay abreast of the latest trends and technologies in the field.

Types of Nursing School Accreditation

Understanding the types of nursing school accreditation available can help you make a more informed choice about your education. The major accrediting bodies include the following:

Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) Accreditation

The CCNE is a nationally recognized accrediting agency that focuses on ensuring the quality and integrity of baccalaureate, graduate, and residency programs in nursing. If you’re interested in research or academic nursing, a program accredited by the CCNE would be beneficial.

Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) Accreditation

The ACEN provides specialized accreditation for all types of nursing programs, from diploma and associate degrees to doctoral programs. It has a more diverse scope than the CCNE and accredits nursing programs in schools, colleges, and universities.

Other Types of Nursing School Accreditation

In addition to these specialized nursing accrediting bodies, schools may also have regional or national accreditation for the institution as a whole. However, it’s crucial to note that institutional accreditation doesn’t replace the need for programmatic nursing accreditation.

By familiarizing yourself with these types of nursing accreditation, you can better evaluate the quality and suitability of different nursing programs for your career goals.

How Does a School Gain Nursing Accreditation?

The road to nursing accreditation is rigorous and demanding, reflecting the high standards that accredited programs must uphold. If you’ve ever wondered how a school earns this valuable endorsement, here’s an overview of the process:

Application and Self-Evaluation

The first step for a nursing program seeking accreditation is to submit an application to the accrediting body, whether it be CCNE, ACEN, or another recognized agency. The program then conducts a comprehensive self-evaluation, assessing its curriculum, faculty qualifications, facilities, and more, against the accrediting body’s standards.

Review and Site Visit

Upon receiving the application and self-assessment, the accrediting body reviews the documents to gauge the program’s readiness for the next step: a site visit. This visit involves a team of expert evaluators who thoroughly inspect the program’s resources, interview faculty and students, and review documentation to ensure compliance with accreditation standards.

Peer Review and Feedback

Following the site visit, the evaluation team prepares a report that is submitted for peer review. The program then receives feedback and may need to provide additional information or make improvements.

Final Approval and Accreditation Status

Once all criteria are met, the accrediting body grants accreditation status to the nursing program. This is often followed by regular assessments and periodic re-accreditation to ensure ongoing compliance with standards.

Maintenance of Accreditation

Accreditation is not a one-time event but a continuous process. Schools must submit annual reports and undergo periodic re-evaluation to maintain their accredited status. Failure to do so can result in loss of accreditation.

Understanding this process gives you an appreciation of the rigorous quality control that goes into accredited nursing programs. You can be confident that an accredited program has been carefully vetted for academic excellence.

The Nursing School Accreditation Process

The nursing school accreditation process includes a number of required actions.

Steps from Application to Approval

  1. Preliminary Application: A brief application to determine the program’s eligibility for full evaluation.

  2. Comprehensive Self-Study: A detailed evaluation, usually submitted six to 12 months before the site visit.

  3. Site Visit and Data Collection: An on-site evaluation of the program’s facilities, staff, and curriculum.

  4. Evaluation Report: A report summarizing findings, recommendations, and areas for improvement.

  5. Peer Review and Approval: The final stage where the report is reviewed by a panel, and accreditation is either granted, deferred, or denied.

Role of Peer Review

Peer review is an essential component of the accreditation process. It adds an extra layer of scrutiny, ensuring that the evaluation is unbiased and comprehensive. Peer reviewers are usually nursing education experts who understand both the challenges and expectations of a quality nursing program.

Process for Maintaining Accreditation

Once a program gains accreditation, it must submit regular reports demonstrating ongoing adherence to accreditation standards. This often includes updates on program improvements, faculty qualifications, and student achievement metrics. These reports are reviewed to ensure that the program continues to meet or exceed standards.

Online Accredited Nursing Degree Programs

As online education gains traction, many prospective nursing students are considering online accredited nursing programs as a viable option for their education. Let’s delve into what these programs entail and what you should look out for when selecting one.

What Is an Online Accredited Nursing Degree Program?

An online accredited nursing degree program is an educational program that meets the same accreditation standards as traditional, on-campus programs but is delivered mostly or entirely online. These programs offer degrees such as an Associate Degree in Nursing, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), among others.

What to Look for in an Online Accredited Nursing Degree Program

  1. Accreditation: Make sure the program is accredited by recognized accrediting bodies like CCNE or ACEN.

  2. Curriculum: Ensure that the curriculum aligns with your career goals and includes both theoretical and practical training.

  3. Faculty: Look for programs with experienced faculty who have both academic and clinical expertise in nursing.

  4. Flexibility: Check if the program offers flexible schedules and pacing options to accommodate your personal and professional commitments.

  5. Clinical Requirements: Understand how the program handles clinical placements, as practical experience is crucial in nursing education.

Accredited Nursing Program Curriculum

Understanding the curriculum of accredited nursing programs can help you align your educational choices with your career goals. The typical curriculum for different nursing degrees may include the following elements:

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) Curriculum

The ADN curriculum is designed to provide foundational nursing skills and knowledge. Students learn the basics of patient care, anatomy, and physiology. The program often includes courses in pharmacology, nursing ethics, and basic healthcare practices. Clinical rotations are also a critical component of the ADN curriculum, giving students hands-on experience in healthcare settings.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Curriculum

The BSN curriculum is more comprehensive, incorporating both the basics and advanced topics in nursing. Students delve into subjects like nursing research, healthcare policy, and community health, in addition to the foundational nursing courses. Leadership and management skills are also emphasized, preparing students for potential roles in healthcare administration. Clinical experience is integrated throughout the program.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Curriculum

An MSN curriculum focuses on advanced theoretical and practical nursing skills. Depending on the specialization, courses might include advanced pharmacology, healthcare economics, and specialized care practices such as pediatric nursing or geriatric care. Research and leadership courses are also commonly included, providing the skills needed for advanced roles in healthcare settings or academic institutions.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Curriculum

The DNP curriculum is the most advanced and focuses on translating research into clinical practice. Courses often include healthcare policy and advocacy, advanced research methodologies, and specialized courses tailored to the student’s area of interest. The DNP program also usually requires a capstone project or dissertation that contributes to nursing practice or policy.

By understanding the curriculum for each type of nursing degree, you can make an informed decision about which accredited nursing program best suits your career aspirations.

Can I Earn a Nursing Degree Entirely Online?

Many programs offer the coursework for a nursing degree entirely online but may require on-site clinical placements to provide hands-on experience. It’s essential to find out how these clinical requirements will be managed and whether they can be completed in your local area.

Is Nursing Accreditation Required for Working in Nursing?

The short answer is, it depends on your career goals and location. However, for most nursing positions, attending an accredited nursing school is strongly advised for several reasons:


In many states, graduation from an accredited nursing program is a prerequisite for licensure. Failing to attend an accredited program can severely limit your options for becoming a registered nurse or obtaining other certifications.

Career Advancement

If you aspire to roles that require advanced qualifications, such as nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist, most employers and licensing boards require education from an accredited program.

Eligibility for Federal Financial Aid

As mentioned earlier, federal financial aid is generally only available to students attending accredited institutions, which includes accredited nursing programs.

Career Types within Nursing

Nursing is a versatile field with various career paths. The type of nursing role you can pursue often depends on your level of education, experience, and specialization. Below are some common types of nursing careers:

Registered Nurse (RN)

As a registered nurse, you’ll be responsible for providing patient care, administering medications, and coordinating with healthcare teams. A nursing diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree in nursing is typically required.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for registered nurses was $81,220 as of May 2022. The BLS projects a 6% growth in employment from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse practitioners have more advanced responsibilities, including diagnosing and treating illnesses. A master’s degree or doctoral degree in nursing is essential for this role.

Salary and Job Outlook

Nurse practitioners can expect a median annual wage of $121,610 as of May 2022, according to the BLS. The job growth is projected to be a staggering 46% from 2021 to 2031.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Clinical nurse specialists focus on specialized areas like pediatrics, geriatrics, or critical care. A master’s or doctoral degree is usually necessary for this role.

Salary and Job Outlook

While the BLS does not provide specific data for clinical nurse specialists, Payscale reported an average annual salary of around $98,000 as of August 2023. The job growth for advanced practice nurses, including CNS roles, is expected to be robust, in line with the demand for healthcare services.

Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists specialize in administering anesthesia. This role requires a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia and additional certification.

Salary and Job Outlook

The median annual wage for nurse anesthetists was $203,090 as of May 2022, according to the BLS. The job growth rate is projected to be 12% from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Licensed practical nurses provide basic care under the supervision of registered nurses. An LPN program, which is usually about one year long, is the educational requirement for this role.

Salary and Job Outlook

The median annual wage for licensed practical nurses was $54,620 as of May 2022, according to the BLS. The BLS projects 6% growth in employment from 2021 to 2031, slightly faster than the average for all occupations.

Understanding the career options available within nursing can help you better plan your educational pathway. Whether you aim to become a registered nurse or aspire for a specialized role, choosing an accredited nursing program is crucial for your professional success. 

Nursing Accreditation FAQs

Accreditation in nursing can sometimes be a confusing topic. Frequently asked questions about nursing accreditation include the following:

How Long Does Nursing Accreditation Last?

Nursing accreditation typically lasts for a period of five to 10 years, depending on the accrediting body and the type of accreditation. Schools may need to go through a re-accreditation process once this period expires.

Why Should I Go to an Accredited Nursing School?

Attending an accredited nursing school ensures that you are receiving a quality education that meets recognized standards. This can be especially crucial when transferring credits, pursuing further education, or seeking job opportunities.

How Many Accrediting Bodies Are There for Nursing?

There are several accrediting bodies for nursing, but the two main organizations are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). There are also specialized accrediting organizations for particular types of nursing education.

Do the Accrediting Bodies Accredit Entirely Online Programs?

Yes, most accrediting bodies recognize online programs and give them the same rigorous evaluation as traditional programs. However, it’s essential to verify that an online program is accredited before enrolling.

How Long Does it Take to Earn an Accredited Nursing Degree Online?

The time it takes to earn an accredited nursing degree online can vary depending on the program and your previous educational background. An ADN might take two years, a BSN often takes four years, and advanced degrees like an MSN or a DNP can take two to four years beyond the bachelor’s level.

Can I Get a Nursing Degree Entirely Online?

While many courses can be completed online, nursing programs usually require clinical rotations that must be completed in person. Therefore, it’s rare to find a program that is entirely online.

Do Accredited Nursing Programs Cost More?

Accredited nursing programs may have higher tuition fees compared to non-accredited programs due to the costs associated with maintaining accreditation standards. However, the benefits of an accredited education often outweigh the costs in the long run.

The Importance of Nursing School Accreditation for Prospective Students

Accreditation isn’t just a stamp of approval; it’s an assurance of quality. As a prospective nursing student, choosing an accredited program should be a top priority. Not only does it pave the way for a promising career, but it also ensures that you’re receiving an education that meets or exceeds established standards in the field. 

If you have further questions about nursing school accreditation, it’s always a good idea to consult directly with the accrediting bodies or the schools you are considering.

Additional Resources

Here are some links and references to help you explore this subject further:

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