Confused about accreditation standards for DNP programs? We don’t blame you. Many university DNP websites are a mishmash of unfamiliar acronyms and accreditation claims. In our guide to DNP accreditation, we take it step by step, giving you the tools to decide whether a DNP nursing program is worthy of your money.
DNP Accreditation Steps
Step 1: Check if the University is Regionally Accredited
Your first step is to ask the university whether it is regionally accredited by one of six regional accrediting bodies (e.g. North Central Association of Colleges and Schools). Attending a regionally accredited university will make it much easier for you to apply for financial aid and transfer credits to other regionally accredited institutions. It also reassures employers that you attended a good school.
Step 2: Check if the Program has State Board of Nursing Approval
Your next step is to check if your DNP program will be recognized by your State Board of Nursing. This board sets state standards for clinical practice and approves programs that train nurses for the NCLEX examinations (e.g. PN, RN, etc.). If your program doesn’t have state approval, you may not be able to obtain APRN state licensure. ACEN- or CCNE-accredited programs are typically fine. Ask your university for confirmation or contact your State Board of Nursing.
Step 3: Check for Accreditation of the Nursing Program
Your final – and critical – step is to see if the DNP program has been accredited by a national organization such as ACEN or CCNE or a specialty organization such as ACME or COA. Although you may not need accreditations like these to land a job, they are particularly important if you are seeking advanced licensure and certification (e.g. NP, CNS, CRNA, etc).
Both the ACEN and CCNE have been sanctioned by the Department of Education; CCNE, in particular, garners a lot of respect. Enrolling in a nationally accredited DNP program can increase your eligibility for financial aid (including scholarships, grants, federal/state financial aid, and tuition reimbursement programs from employers) and pave the ground for more employment offers. For example, some hospitals, facilities, and branches of the military make a degree with ACEN or CCNE accreditation a requirement.
Nursing Program Accreditation
Formerly known as the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC), the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accredits all levels of nursing education programs, including diplomas, undergraduate degrees, master’s degrees, and clinical doctorates. You can learn more about their criteria for judging doctorates in the ACEN Accreditation Manual.
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredits everything from nursing baccalaureates to DNPs. However, the one area that the CCNE does not accredit is research doctorates (PhD or DNS). According to the CCNE’s doctoral criteria:
- All DNP programs must incorporate The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice (AACN, 2006) into the curriculum.
- All DNP programs with NP tracks must address the revised Criteria for Evaluation of Nurse Practitioner Programs (NTF, 2008).
- Students in post-baccalaureate DNP programs must complete 1,000 hours of practice. However, students in post-master’s programs can apply to have previously earned practice hours credited to this requirement.
Specialty Program Accreditation
The Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME) has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as an accrediting agency for nurse-midwifery education programs since 1982. Attending an ACME-accredited program is required to become a CNM.
The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) is the standard accrediting agency for nurse anesthetists in the U.S. and its territories. Attending a COA-accredited program is required to become a CRNA.