Written by Lisa M. Davila, BSN, MS
Lisa M. Davila, BSN, MSLisa received her bachelor's degree in nursing and spent the first fifteen years of her professional career as a registered nurse. Her main specialty area was critical care. She also worked in a busy medical practice and as a visiting nurse for home intravenous therapy patients.

You might have heard the term “NLN accreditation” in reference to a nursing education program and wondered what it means.

“NLN” stands for National League for Nursing, which is a membership organization for nursing faculty and leaders in nursing education. Founded in 1893 as the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nurses, the NLN was the very first nursing organization in the United States.

According to their website, NLN offers faculty development programs, networking opportunities, testing and assessment, nursing research grants, and public policy initiatives to its 33,000 individual and 1,200 institutional members.

The NLN accrediting commission (NLNAC) is an entity within the NLN that is responsible for the accreditation of nursing education schools and programs. Many types of nursing programs apply for accreditation, including practical nursing programs; diplomas; associate’s degrees; and bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. NLNAC is also currently developing a model for accrediting international nursing programs.

What does accreditation mean?

NLNAC accreditation serves to provide assurance that schools and nursing programs meet or exceed certain standards and criteria. If a program is accredited, the faculty is properly credentialed, the curriculum will prepare you for the nursing profession, and the majority of program graduates pass their licensure exams.

Other benefits of accreditation:

  • enables a program to improve through self-evaluation
  • helps a program recruit students
  • assures employers that graduates have competent skills
  • helps guide students in their job and education choices
  • enables transfer of education credits
  • helps students be eligible for financial assistance from government sources

Bachelor’s degree, graduate nursing degree, and nurse residency programs can also be accredited through the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). This accrediting body is responsible for reviewing the overall quality of an educational program, and assuring that it has all the necessary elements in place for graduates to succeed in their profession.

How it may affect you

If you choose to attend a non-accredited program, you may not be eligible for financial aid. And you may not be able to transfer credits—particularly to an accredited program—if you decide to change programs or further your education.

Graduating from a non-accredited program may limit your job possibilities, especially if you want to work for the government. If you are a new graduate, it might pose difficulty if a hospital or other agency recruiter has to choose between you and another new nurse who came from an accredited program.

“Graduating from a non-accredited program may limit your job possibilities, especially if you want to work for the government.”

If, however, you graduated years ago from a non-accredited school but have been working as a nurse and have solid experience under your belt, whether or not you attended an accredited program may not matter to some recruiters if you want to change jobs.

To find NLN-accredited programs in your area (you can search by state or institution) visit the NLNAC website.

You can also search for programs with candidate status. Candidacy is only the first step toward NLNAC accreditation so all candidate programs will not necessarily achieve accreditation.

Your best bet? Attend an NLNAC-accredited program. It’s an investment in your future and you’ll feel confident that you are well prepared to start your nursing career.

How many programs are accredited?

There are approximately 3,000 nursing programs in the U.S. The latest NLNAC data shows that 1,222 are accredited as of December 31st, 2010. Here’s the breakdown by program type:

  • Nursing Doctorate: 1
  • Master’s: 98
  • Baccalaureate: 234
  • Associate Degree: 673
  • Diploma: 53
  • Practical Nursing: 162

Source: Alex Mariquit, NLNAC Manager of Operations