Online vs. On-Campus Nursing Degrees: A Detailed Cost Analysis

Online vs. On-Campus Nursing Degrees: A Detailed Cost Analysis

College education has never been more expensive. Many people are now questioning the value of a degree. Going to college has previously always been framed as an investment in your future. Is that still true?

College graduates can spend fifteen years paying off their loans. Trade school graduates, on the other hand, may pay cash for their certification and begin working right away. 

Nursing careers require a traditional college education. It will be expensive no matter what route you take. Are there ways to get a break on your tuition?

In this article, we do a comparative analysis of the costs of online vs. on-campus learning. Read on to learn more about which degree path is cheaper. 


Dorm rooms cost an average of $1200 per month. As rental prices go, this MAY be reasonable, depending on where you live. In New York City, $1200 is less than half the rent of a small apartment. In small-town Illinois, it may be the mortgage on a spacious 2500-square-foot home. 

On a college campus, $1200 per month usually buys you a 120-square-foot room that you share with another student. Typically, no kitchen is included and the bathroom/shower is shared with your entire floor.

Naturally, when you learn remotely, your housing costs are not influenced by your education. Rent/mortgage remains the same. 


The price of books can vary substantially based on where you are going to school. Many universities have robust rental systems where you pay a flat—often modest—rental fee for your books. At the end of the year, you return them. 

Good rental systems can save college students hundreds of dollars each semester. 

Of course, there is no guarantee that the universities you are interested in will have this system in place. 

The average price of a college textbook hovers at around $100. This is more or less a fixed cost if you can’t rent your materials. Online or in-person, there is no getting around the need to buy learning materials. 

Many websites— including Amazon —allow students to rent books. This can help you save a lot of money throughout your education. Students who rent their textbooks spend around $200 per year total on class materials. 

Credit Hours

On-campus credit hour costs vary pretty dramatically from school to school. It’s not at all uncommon for an in-person program to charge between $600-800 per credit hour. If you are a full-time student taking a typical 15-hour schedule, this means you will pay around $10,000 in tuition every semester. 

Many online programs charge less than $200 per credit hour. This puts your tuition costs at around $3000 per semester. 

Adding it All Up

On-campus nursing degrees cost an average of $80,000. This figure assumes that the participant is attending a public university. Private school tuition can easily come closer to $200,000. 

Online tuition prices can range dramatically from $3000—7,200 per year. Over four years, this puts the total cost at around $30,000. These prices reflect the tuition cost of an exclusively online university. 

If you decide to use a brick-and-mortar school’s online program, you will usually pay the same tuition price that you would for their on-campus school.

Why are the prices so different? Overhead is the primary culprit. On-campus universities are full of big buildings, spacious “quads,” books, computers, and other student resources that are nice to have— but also very expensive. 

All of that infrastructure costs a ton of money to maintain. The same features that attract students to traditional universities also ensure that the experience will be tremendously expensive. 

The resources provided by physical universities absolutely have value. Some of this is tangible. For example, a physical university may give nursing students access to a simulation lab. This will allow them to experience hyper-realistic medical situations in a controlled environment. 

You can’t replicate that experience at home. 

Other value propositions that on-campus learning environments provide are intangible. People want that traditional college experience. They want to make friends and eat cafeteria food. Spend extravagantly on a horrible dorm room.

It’s a cultural milestone that many people value. The question is, how much value should it be given?

Most major financial decisions strike a balance between what is wanted and what is affordable. When buying a new car, most people don’t pick the flashiest model on the lot. They decide what features are important to them, and they look for a car within their price range that best reflects those features. If they can’t find everything they want in a car within their price range, most people will settle for something they can afford rather than opt for a bigger loan.

Why isn’t college viewed the same way? You can get an excellent education online for a fraction of the price. 

Final Thoughts

There are a couple of other things to keep in mind. Number one—nursing education is highly regulated. All accredited learning institutions are required to provide ostensibly the same instruction. That doesn’t mean the quality of instruction is identical. It does mean that all nursing students—online or in-person—learn approximately the same things. 

Salary potential is another factor that bears consideration. Nurses make good money and can command six-figure salaries. The only way to advance your salary much beyond that point is to get an advanced degree. 

However, there are limits to how much they will make. The ROI for your degree is fixed. Regardless of how much you spend on it, you’ll wind up with the same salary. 

Business degrees are different. If you graduate from a prestigious school, it may open the doors to very lucrative careers. In those cases, it may make sense to invest heavily in a prestigious degree. Is it sensible to do the same for nursing?

If you’re looking at college education exclusively as an investment, the answer is no. Of course, college is not only an investment. It is also an experience. The true value of your degree is what you make of it. Some nursing students will prefer saving money with an online degree. Others won’t mind spending more for a traditional college experience.

Ultimately, you need to weigh what factors mean the most to you and decide on the educational path that feels most fulfilling.