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Nursing Education National League for Nursing - Excellence Initiatives

Frequently Asked Questions About The COE

How do we decide which category to pursue for COE

The choice of category to pursue for COE designation is a
decision that the faculty and nursing administration of each
school makes based on its strengths, goals, and areas of
distinction. It is suggested that the faculty engage in extended
discussions of the extent to which they meet the NLN
Hallmarks of Excellence in Nursing Education© (available at,
as well as the goals they have set for the school. The focus of
the COE program is to distinguish those schools that

  1. demonstrate sustained, evidence-based and substantive
    innovation in a selected area,
  2. conduct ongoing research to document the effectiveness of such innovation,
  3. set high standards for themselves, and
  4. are committed to continuous quality improvement.

Thus, your school needs to identify the area in which you demonstrate excellence and in which you have created an environment that all faculty are committed to sustaining for all programs offered.

There are terms in the criteria that can be interpreted in a number of ways. Is there a glossary to define these terms?
No. A deliberate decision was made not to include a glossary so that each school can define what terms mean within its particular context. Your responses to the criteria should speak to your unique characteristics and how excellence pervades all aspects of your school.

Are any schools turned down after the initial application?

No. The purpose of the initial application is for the school to notify the NLN of its intent to pursue COE designation and the category it will pursue. The decision regarding COE designation is made only after the school submits its final application.

What is the purpose of the initial application?
The initial application is the means by which a school formally notifies the NLN of its intent to pursue COE designation and the category it will pursue. It also provides information about the college/university and the nursing unit that is used when assigning the consultant and that then provides a context for the consultant who will visit the school.

How long does the final application have to be?
The maximum limit for the length of the final application is 200 pages including appendices. It is recommended that any supplemental material that may be included with the application (e.g., DVDs, testimonials, etc.) be powerful, informative, and complement the narrative. It is the responsibility of the school to provide convincing evidence that all criteria in the selected category have been met for all faculty and/or all programs offered by the school. Be sure to view the Final Application Guidelines.

If we are unsuccessful with our application, can we reapply during the following year in the same category?
Absolutely. Given that your school will have contributed significant time and resources to developing the COE application, a reapplication in the same area seems most prudent. Please note, however, that you may need more time to “put pieces in place” that would help you be more successful in the review process or that another category may be more appropriate for your school. The final decisions about reapplying in the following year and the category to pursue rest with the school.

If we re-apply, do we have to pay all new fees?
Yes, all fees need to be paid when a school reapplies after an unsuccessful bid for COE designation, and another consultant visit will be scheduled. Resources are needed to process an application (whether it is a new one or a revised one) and to implement the COE program and, fees need to be collected to cover those costs.

If our school initiates but fails to complete the process in a given year will the initial application fee be refunded?

No, the NLN has invested resources to implement the COE program based on projected program costs related to processing application, selecting and preparing consultants, maintaining records, and carrying out other aspects of the program. These costs are incurred regardless of whether or not a school completion of the process in a given year.

How long does it take to complete the process from beginning to end?
The process to pursue designation as an NLN Center of Excellence in Nursing Education begins well before the submission of the initial application. It begins by engaging in discussions about whether you are ready to apply and the category in which you will apply. Once these decisions have been made, the formal process begins with the submission of the initial application by October 15th. The consultant visit is typically scheduled sometime in February or March, and the final application is due by May 15th. Notification of the award occurs in July, and the actual presentation is made at the NLN Education Summit in September. The formal process, therefore, takes approximately nine months.

Which parts of the application process are kept confidential?
All parts of the application process are kept confidential. The NLN staff, consultant, and committee members keep all information related to COE applications confidential. It is the school’s decision to share information about its application for COE designation, the consultant visit, or the outcome of the process.

How are faculty involved in the process?
Each school will determine the extent to which faculty are involved in the process of applying for COE designation. For example, the decision to pursue this designation and the category in which to apply both may be decisions of the total faculty. Faculty also may be involved in preparing the initial and/or final application, meeting with the consultant during her/his visit, or attending the Summit if the designation is awarded.

How are students involved in the process?
The extent of student involvement in the COE process is likely to depend on the category you select. If your school chooses the “Student” category, students are likely to play an integral role, perhaps by helping to prepare the initial and/or final application, meeting with the consultant during her/his visit to your school, providing testimonials for inclusion in the final application, or attending the Summit if the designation is awarded.

How is the administration involved in the process?
The dean/director/chairperson may initiate the process by inviting faculty to consider pursuing COE designation. She/he also may be the one to arrange and facilitate forums where faculty discuss the extent to which the school is fulfilling the NLN Hallmarks of Excellence in Nursing, the COE category the school might pursue, and the distinctive features of the school that should be highlighted in the application. The dean/director/ chairperson also participates actively in such discussions, may be involved in preparing parts of the initial and/or final application, facilitates the consultant visit and meets with that individual, serves as the contact person throughout the process, and secures resources to facilitate the process.

If we are unable to complete the process, will a refund be given?
Once the fees are submitted, there are no refunds.

How do we start the process?
Once your school has decided to pursue COE designation in a particular category, you may start the formal process by submitting the initial application and appropriate fee. The initial application asks for descriptive information about your school, a brief summary of activities related to each criterion in the category you have selected, and information about how you learned about the program and how you expect COE designation will benefit your school. All these materials are due on or before October 15th.

If a program is not successful in the application process, is there an appeal mechanism that can be pursued?
No. The decision of the NLN Board of Governors is final, and there is no appeal process. Schools that are not successful in the process are provided with feedback about the strenghts and weaknesses noted by the COE committee, and they are invited to contact the NLN for clarification of any of those points.

What kind of feedback can we expect if we fail to receive designation as an NLN Center of Excellence?
If your school is not successful in your application for designation as an NLN Center of Excellence, you will receive a report of strenghts and weaknesses noted by the committee as they reviewed and discussed your application. These points will relate to the criteria that were published and used as the basis for the committee's recommendation to the NLN Board of Governors.

What should our final application convey?
Your final application should document how each criterion has been met and “tell the story” of how your school creates environments that pervade all the programs you offer and all faculty endeavors. This application should include a comprehensive description of activities and initiatives in which your school is engaged that provide evidence of how you have met each criterion. It may be accompanied by such documentation as videos, websites, CDs, conference brochures, etc., but you should remember that any such supplemental material (a) is not required, (b) should not be burdensome to the review panel, (c) should be powerful in helping to “tell your story,” and (d) should complement, rather than repeat, the narrative.

Who decides whether or not a school receives COE designation?

All applications are thoroughly reviewed by the COE committee, who submits their recommendations regarding COE designation to the NLN Board of Governors, The NLN Board makes the final decision about awarding COE designation to a school.

How will we be notified of the final decision about our application for COE designation?

The committee typically meets in June and forwards their recommendations to the Board of Governors. All applicant schools are notified in writing of the Board’s decision sometime in July, and those schools not recommended for COE status are informed of the weaknesses in their application.

Are any extensions granted during the process?

There are no extensions granted during the process. Schools are encouraged to develop timelines for completion of the COE process (including the preparation and mailing of the final application) at the outset of the process or at least prior to sending in the initial application. If, after submitting the initial application and/or the consultant visit, a school decides not to continue in the process, the NLN staff should be notified in writing.


Nursing Education
Nursing Education
Nursing Education
Nursing Education