Best Online Nursing Programs

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Badge (Online) with 2-Line TitleBachelor'sof Science in Nursing2017
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Registered nurses (or RNs for short) treat and care for sick and/or injured patients at hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers and other healthcare facilities. RNs are tasked with a wide assortment of day-to-day responsibilities, most of them related to diagnosing patients, collecting samples for testing, counseling, patient record keeping and appointment scheduling. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are approximately 2.75 million registered nurses working in the U.S. today ― making this one of the largest employment fields in the country. Jobs for RNs are also projected to grow by 16% between 2014 and 2024, resulting in the creation of roughly 440,000 new positions. RNs must be licensed to work in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Although many RNs launch successful careers with an associate degree in nursing or a nursing diploma, a bachelor’s degree can help qualified candidates compete in the tough job market. The most popular undergraduate route for RNs is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN. BSN degree programs feature foundational coursework designed to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to advance their nursing career. BSN pathways also include at least one internship or clinical residency, allowing students to receive supervised, hands-on training from experienced professionals at working healthcare facilities. Many of today’s students are choosing to earn their BSN online, rather than in a classroom. Web-based students follow the same rigorous curriculum as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, leading to a comparable number of post-degree job opportunities; many BSN programs are also accelerated, enabling students to graduate in as little as one to two years. Additionally, the study-from-home online format can be ideal for students with conflicting commitments ― such as part-time jobs or childcare ― that may interfere with campus-based education.

This guide will cover BSN programs designed for students with experience as licensed registered nurses. For more information on a similar educational pathway, please visit our Guide to Online RN to BSN Degree Programs.

Learn more about what you can do with an RN to BSN and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.


BSN degree programs will build on the knowledge and skills that students have gained while working as licensed RNs. The curricula include coursework in human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, healthcare administration and medical billing and coding. Internships and residencies give students the chance to apply what they have learned in order to solve problems and address concerns at real-world healthcare facilities.


Online BSN degree programs provide a flexible alternative to traditional higher education. Students can access course readings and lectures, participate in virtual discussions with other students and faculty, submit written assignments, take exams and communicate with their professors ― all on their own schedule, and from the comfort of home. Current technology also allows them to study away from their desktop using a laptop, tablet, smartphone and other portable devices with Wi-Fi capabilities. For added convenience, online BSN students can often coordinate onsite trainings at healthcare facilities close to their current residence.


The BSN degrees listed below are aimed at registered nurses who plan to advance in their RN career. Many BSN programs offered today enable students to earn degree concentrations in niche areas of nursing like critical care, pediatrics, rehabilitation or addiction nursing. A specialization can open up additional opportunities for qualified graduates. A BSN is also suitable for students who plan to continue their education with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree; a master’s is often required for advanced nursing roles, such as midwives, anesthetists and nurse practitioners.


Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online BSN programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering an online BSN program, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific bachelor’s degree requirements and offerings.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Location Description
1 University of Central Florida 80.36 3/5 Orlando, FL

Located in Orlando, UCF is the largest university in Florida and boasts one of the highest graduation rates among Florida state institutions. Nursing is one of the most popular programs at the school, and can be studied completely online with select courses available on campus if students wish to visit.

UCF offers two online BSN programs to undergraduates. These include the AS to BSN program, available for licensed registered nurses (RNs) with an associate of science in nursing (ASN) from a Florida public college, or the RN to BSN program, for RNs with an associate degree or diploma. Applicants must also have a minimum GPA of 2.8 and have completed professional prerequisites. UCF awards credit for prior learning in adult health, childbearing and child rearing, and psychiatric-mental health. Most students graduate in five semesters.

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2 North Dakota State University 64.82 3/5 Fargo, ND

NDSU, which specializes in agricultural research and applied sciences, collaborates with NDSU Distance and Continuing Education (DCE) to offer online and blended learning degrees and general education courses.

The school’s LPN to BSN offers blended-format curriculum to 32 licensed practical nurses per year. Most of the program is delivered online, but students are required to visit campus on three occasions: to take validation exams prior to admission, for orientation, and to complete clinicals toward the end of the program. The online BSN program covers two years, including summers, and online course fees are the same for residents and non-residents of North Dakota. Applicants must hold an associate degree, but diplomas and certificates are accepted with an additional 66 college credits from another degree.

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3 Western Governors University 62.68 3/5 Salt Lake City, UT

WGU is an exclusively online, nonprofit school dedicated to innovative, flexible, and accelerated distance learning. The university boasts a 98% employer satisfaction rate, charges typically half the costs of other online schools at a flat rate, and offers bachelor’s degrees that take significantly less time to complete. WGU was also the first university in the country to offer a competency-based learning model, rather than assessing by credit hours or seat time.

The school’s bachelor of science in nursing (RN to BSN) coursework is delivered completely online. The program begins with a professional leadership and communication for healthcare course, which requires 90 minutes of on-site clinical experience. The rest of the BSN online curriculum covers key subject areas such as care of the older adult and leadership and professional image. Due to WGU’s competency-based method and flexible pace, students average 18 months completion time but can earn their degree more quickly by applying prior learning. A total of 120 “competency units” (the equivalent to a credit hour) are required to graduate.

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4 University of North Dakota 62.50 3/5 Grand Forks, ND

UND, situated in Grand Forks, is considered one of the top scientific research institutions in the northern Midwest and is the state’s oldest and largest university. UND also has the highest number of course offerings in the state, with more than 225 fields of study. Nursing is one of the school’s most popular degrees and is offered as a distance learning option.

The online RN to BSN degree program does not require on-campus attendance, but includes clinical experiences which may be completed in students’ home communities. The curriculum follows a semester-based calendar and is identical to its on-campus counterpart. Courses are taught by faculty who represent a diverse set of areas, from aging to women’s health to cultural competency. Classes emphasize strong one-to-one connections between faculty and students. Students can access course materials at any time and take live web classes. All online BSN students at UND pay the same tuition, regardless of location.

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5 University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh 57.50 3/5 Oshkosh, WI

The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, as part of one of the largest public education systems in the U.S., is dedicated to offering state-wide resources, support services, and small classes to students. The school is recognized for its nursing success: the College of Nursing has maintained a graduate pass rate of above 99% for 18 years.

Students of the innovative online bachelor’s to BSN can also benefit from an accelerated option, comprising 12 months of study (concurrent employment is not recommended). The online accelerated BSN program is rigorous, with one credit class taken per week, and is not self-paced. However, it has a highly successful attrition rate of less than 1% and exceeds the national average in performance. Theory courses are online, and students can take the required clinical elements near their homes. Campus residencies are also required at the orientation and capstone stages of the curriculum.

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6 Southern New Hampshire University 54.29 4/5 Manchester, NH

SNHU, a private, nonprofit university situated in Manchester, offers over 200 career-focused online degrees and certificates. The school’s undergraduate programs are transfer-friendly and flexible, with multiple term starts and self-paced study. SNHU is also military-friendly; active-duty service members can benefit from an additional 30% discount.

The RN to BSN online bachelor’s degree follows a 10-course framework. This is built upon two competencies: "The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health" report by the Institute of Medicine, which focuses on professional development; and the 11 nursing competencies of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. SNHU also offers an RN to MSN option, providing an accelerated path from ASN through to master’s level. Students may choose from three tracks: MSN clinical nurse leader, MSN patient quality and safety, or MSN general.

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7 The University of Texas at Arlington 53.93 3/5 Arlington, TX

UTA is a public research university, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area, possessing the largest student population in North Texas. Recognized for its high doctoral research activity by the Carnegie Foundation, the university offers over 180 rigorous degree programs across 10 colleges and schools.

UTA’s online bachelor of science in nursing is one of the most expedited online BSN programs available in the area, taking only 15 months to complete and suitable for working professionals. In addition, the program holds graduation and licensure rates exceeding 90% -- among the highest in the state. The 14-course curriculum follows a blended learning model, and involves faculty-supervised clinical experiences in a Texas hospital. Courses must be taken in a predetermined sequence, but not on a traditional semester-based schedule. Before applying, students must have completed 70 credit hours of prerequisites, including history of the United States, technical writing, and college algebra.

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8 Concordia University-Wisconsin 51.96 4/5 Mequon, WI

One of the country’s leading Lutheran universities, CUW offers 71 undergraduate degrees. The school’s health programs are among the most popular areas of study, and attract 25% of the student population.

Two of these are available to undergraduate distance learners at the Online School of Nursing. The RN-BSN-MSN program is designed for students who hold associate degrees or RN licensure in any state, and offers a seamless path to advanced study. This program also includes an optional 27-credit nurse educator track. The BSN completion can consist of between 36 and 121 credits, depending on how many the student chooses to transfer, and takes 18 months to complete. Neither online BSN option is currently accepting new students from Alabama, California, Kentucky, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, or South Dakota; the RN-BSN-MSN also excludes Tennessee residents.

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9 Marian University 51.61 3/5 Indianapolis, IN

A Catholic University based in Indianapolis, Marian operates on four pillars of Franciscan faith: dignity, peace and justice, reconciliation, and stewardship. This focus on mind, body, and spirit provides a thriving, supportive environment for healthcare profession students of all faiths, backgrounds, and locations.

The Leighton School of Nursing offers an accelerated BSN online program that can be completed in a 16-month, four-semester, blended format. Students participate in three core components: self-paced interactive online nursing theory coursework, on-site nursing simulation labs to prepare for clinicals, and 765 hours of clinical rotations at St. Vincent hospital in Indiana. With three program starts per year, enrollment is flexible, and is open to students with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. Non-nurses must complete the required prerequisite courses in humanities and sciences areas such as anatomy, microbiology, and statistics; each can be studied online in five to eight weeks.

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10 Indiana State University 51.25 3/5 Terre Haute, IN

Indiana State, an independent public institution with a focus on public service, offers over 30 bachelor’s and master’s degrees entirely online or with minimal on-campus instruction. There are two undergraduate nursing programs available, including an online LPN/LVN to BSN degree program. This unique and highly successful program boasts a job placement rate of 100%, and is aimed towards a practicing LPN or LVN who has completed a practical nursing program; all applicable credits can be transferred into the program.

The 120-credit curriculum does not require any on-campus visits. Clinicals, the two required exams (on nursing care of adults and maternal and child nursing care), and support or prerequisite courses may be taken in the student’s local community. Graduates will hold licensure in their home state, but ISU is currently not offering online BSN programs to Massachusetts residents or students outside the U.S.

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Online nursing degree programs prepare students to work as nurses in hospitals, long-term care facilities, private homes, and more. It’s becoming more common for licensed nurses to require advanced degrees to move up in their careers. All nursing programs include courses that require clinical hours so that students get hands-on experience. Students searching for online nursing schools should keep in mind that requirements vary depending on the school and program chosen.


Concentration Description Careers This Concentration Prepares For
Nursing Management This concentration is designed for nurses who are interested in supervisory roles. Students learn management skills and about the tools that can be used to complete administrative and supervisory tasks. Topics covered include human resource management, data management, and leadership. Nursing manager, department manager, manager of health information
Nursing Informatics This concentration teaches students about health informatics, including how to safely understand, use, and promote the use of informatics tools in healthcare environments. Topics covered include electronic health records, database management, and patient safety technology. Students learn how to promote public health and evaluate systems. Nursing-related positions in hospitals, insurance companies, home health agencies, hospitals, consulting firms
Nursing Forensics Students interested in working with abuse and assault victims should consider a nursing forensics concentration. Nurses who choose this focus do work that goes beyond direct medical care and can include knowledge of the legal system, evaluation, and documentation. This work often contributes to determining legal outcomes of traumatic events. Legal nurse consultant, nurse coroner, forensic clinical nurse specialist, medical examiner nurse investigator, assault/abuse nurse examiner


Courses offered in online nursing degree programs vary from school to school. Some programs focus more on the technical skills needed to become a practicing nurse, while others give a broad overview of the nursing field. All nursing students are required to complete clinical hours for hands-on experience. Below you’ll find a sample curriculum for a BSN online.

  • Health assessment: In this course students learn how to assess the health of patients. Topics covered include gathering a health history through a patient interview and assessment techniques, including palpation, inspection, and percussion. Students will learn the difference between normal and abnormal conditions.
  • Evidence-based nursing and research: This course provides an introduction to evidence-based nursing practices and helps students understand research and how to use it to provide the best nursing care. Students learn critical thinking skills and how to improve patient care through evidence-based practices. These skills are necessary for effective practicing clinical nurses and nurses who go into research positions.
  • Leadership in nursing: This course is essential for any nursing student who is interested in pursuing supervisory positions in the healthcare field. Leadership skills that help improve patient outcomes are covered, including quality improvement, safety, communication, ethical decision-making, and organizational culture.


How long it takes to complete online nursing programs is determined by many factors. One factor affecting program length is the number of courses available each term and whether the student attends part-time or full-time.

Some programs give students the choice to go at their own pace, while others adopt a cohort learning approach. In cohort programs, a group of students go through the program together, taking the same courses each term. The cohort approach fosters a community of learners who support each other. Students who go at their own pace have more flexibility with how many courses they take and when. On average, it takes three years to complete an online nursing degree. Students who already hold an RN license may be able to complete their bachelor’s quicker, often in just two years. Students who already hold a bachelor’s in another subject may be able to enroll in an accelerated nursing program, completing studies within 11 to 15 months.

An online accelerated nursing program lets students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another subject to quickly earn their bachelor’s in nursing. Accelerated programs allow students to complete their degree in less time than would be required by a regular nursing program. Students usually finish in 11 to 15 months. Accelerated BSN programs generally cost less to complete since students have fewer courses to take. Before selecting an accelerated BSN online program, students should consider if they will be able to make the time commitment: most accelerated programs require students to attend full-time and discourage or prohibit working while completing the degree.

When looking for a school to attend to pursue a bachelor’s in nursing online, it’s important to make sure the school and program are accredited. Accreditation is a voluntary process in which schools and their academic programs are evaluated to make sure they meet minimum educational standards.

There are two types of accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation agencies concentrate on specific geographic regions of the country. National accreditation agencies can accredit schools in any part of the country. By choosing accredited, online nursing schools, students can be assured they will get a quality education. It’s important for nursing students to make sure the online program they choose has an industry-specific accreditation. Nursing programs in the United States are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

Two organizations play important roles in accreditation: the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The Department of Education (DOE) is a U.S. government agency that establishes policy and coordinates federal assistance, including student loans and grants. The DOE publishes a list of nationally recognized accreditors. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation is an organization of degree-granting American colleges and universities. Its purpose is to coordinate the accreditation process for higher education in the United States by ensuring the quality of accrediting agencies. For a list of all accredited schools, visit the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Job Placement

In recent years, the demand for qualified RNs has been fueled by a rising number of patients who need medical care. Millions of previously uninsured Americans currently receive medical coverage under the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), and an aging baby boomer population has increased the need for nurses who specialize in caring for elderly patients. As a result, jobs for nurses are plentiful and unemployment rates are relatively quite low.

How to registered nurses stack up against other nursing personnel in terms of their job outlook? The table below lists unemployment rates of RNs and four other nursing occupations. All five entries were featured in the ‘Best Healthcare Jobs’ of 2017 ranking from U.S. News & World Report.

Occupation Unemployment Rate (2017)
Physician Assistant 0.6%
Nurse Practitioner 0.7%
Nurse Anesthetist 0.7%
Nurse Midwife 0.7%
Registered Nurse 1.5%

Source: ‘Best Healthcare Jobs’ by U.S. News & World Report

While the unemployment rate for RNs is more than twice as high as the rates for the other four occupations, this figure is much lower than the national unemployment rate for all professions, which currently sits at 4.7%.

Earning a Living

A BSN leads to higher salaries than an associate degree or nursing diploma, according to the latest data from PayScale. The table below looks at the differences in career earnings for bachelor’s-, associate- and nursing diploma-holders.

Degree Median Annual Salary (1 year or less) Median Annual Salary (1-4 Years) Median Annual Salary (5-9 Years) Median Annual Salary (10-20 Years) Median Annual Salary (20+ Years)
Nursing Diploma $38,400 $43,000 $57,391 $64,709 $69,703
Associate Degree in Nursing $59,279 $60,638 $65,756 $68,777 $71,953
BSN $58,690 $69,301 $73,758 $79,273 $82,360

Source: PayScale

Of the three entries listed above, nursing diploma recipients reported the highest rate of career salary growth: an increase of 81.5% between after 20 years in the workforce. BSN-holders reported 40.3% career salary growth, while those with an associate degree reported 21.4% career salary growth.

However, it’s important to note that specific job titles will also impact earning potential for BSN recipients. The next table explores the 20-year salary growth of RNs and four other occupations related to nursing; all five careers are attainable with a BSN degree.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 Years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)
Registered Nurse $54,865 $62,114 $66,065 $69,533
Nurse Case Manager $64,854 $69,067 $71,933 $73,561
Registered Nurse Supervisor $65,836 $68,483 $71,231 $73,800
Clinical Nurse Manager $74,147 $77,980 $82,983 $85,607
Nursing Director $74,611 $80,078 $85,089 $86,728

Source: PayScale

Although RNs reported the lowest salaries at all five career benchmarks, they also enjoyed the highest career earnings growth: a 26.7% rise after 20 years. Nursing directors placed second among the occupations listed with 16.2% career earnings growth, followed by clinical nurse managers with 15.5% growth.

Career and Further Education Opportunities

Students who complete a BSN program and graduate with a degree will be qualified to compete for hundreds of nursing jobs, including some managerial roles that require some college education. The RN and APRN professions are outlined below.

Jobs for registered nurses can fall under many different categories. The most common subdivisions include the following:

  • Addiction nurses support patients who are receiving treatment or rehabilitative services for alcoholism, drug abuse and other types of addiction or substance dependency.
  • Cardiovascular nurses care for patients who are hospitalized with different heart diseases, conditions and/or injuries. They also support those who are undergoing or recovering from heart surgery and other operative procedures.
  • Critical care nurses provide constant care and support for patients who are severely injured, seriously ill or otherwise require constant supervision and evaluation.
  • Genetics nurses support patients with hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, some forms of dementia and other conditions that are genetically inherited.
  • Neonatal nurses care for newborn babies, as well as mothers who have recently given birth and their partners.
  • Nephrology nurses care for and support patients with diseases, conditions and injuries related to their kidneys and urinary system.
  • Rehabilitation nurses specialize in services for patients with permanent disabilities that impact their daily lives.

In order to become licensed as an RN in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, candidates must receive a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Additional licensing requirements will vary by state; most include a certain number of post-degree training hours. Licensed RNs must also commit to continuing education courses every year.

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are licensed RNs who have received additional training in an advanced nursing field. Most APRNs have earned an MSN, as well. The three most common job titles for APRNs are listed below.

  • Nurse anesthetists (also known as CRNAs) provide anesthesia to patients who are undergoing surgeries, operations and other procedures that require them to be put under. They also assist with pre- and post-operative care, since many patients struggle with the short-term effects of anesthesia.
  • Nurse midwives (also known as CNMs) care for women who are pregnant or in the process of delivering a child. They often perform gynecological exams leading up to (prenatal) and after childbirth (post-natal), as well.
  • Nurse practitioners (also known as NPs) specialize for patients with round-the-clock care needs stemming from critical, severe or acute injuries, illnesses and other conditions. NPs may also meet with patients and their families to discuss the various impacts of medical diagnosis and treatment.
Occupation Median Annual Salary Projected Industry Growth (2014-24)
Registered Nurses $67,490 16% (+493,000 jobs)
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Practitioners $104,730 31% (+53,400 jobs)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to nursing is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for registered nurses. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.

  • American Nurses Association: The ANA was founded in 1896 to improve the working standards and conditions for professional nurses, and the organization has continued this work to the present day. Members receive access to a vast online resource library, discounted certification and recertification rates, access to five ANA publications and an invitation to the organization’s annual conference.
  • American Academy of Nursing: The AAN follows a mission of “advancing health policy and practice through the generation, synthesis, and dissemination of nursing knowledge.” The organization today represents more than 2,400 members.
  • Emergency Nurses Association: Established in 1968, the ENA was created to represent nurses who serve patients in emergency rooms, critical care units and other highly demanding settings. The organization today advocates for patient safety, as well as optimal emergency nursing practices.

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.


Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.


Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.


Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.


Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We’ve curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.


Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.


Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.

Best Online BSN Programs of 2016
Rank School Location
1 Northeastern University Boston, MA
2 Florida National University Hialeah, FL
3 Crown College Saint Bonifacius, MN
4 Augsburg College Minneapolis, MN
5 Arizona State University Tempe, AZ
6 Marian University Indianapolis, IN
7 University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh Oshkosh, WI
8 Methodist College Plainview, TX