Online Degrees in Respiratory Therapy - Associate's & Bachelor's

Thich Nhat Hanh—Buddhist monk and peace activist—wrote in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation: “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” In this fast-paced information age, people turn to mindfulness practices to become aware of their breathing and cultivate a sense of calm in their busy lives.

Respiratory therapists provide breathing solutions to those suffering from respiratory conditions. While many people are fortunate to bring awareness to the quality of their breath and others go through their day without giving the act of breathing much thought, for some, breathing can be a daily struggle. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), in 2019, approximately 25 million Americans in the United States had asthma.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this represents one in 13 Americans living with this condition or 8 percent of all adults and 7 percent of all children. As air pollution levels in the world’s most populated cities continue to rise, this number may continue to increase. Chronic respiratory diseases caused by pollution, smoke, allergens, and occupational risks require more people to depend on medical professionals to help them manage or improve their breathing.

The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the need for more respiratory therapists. J. Brady Scott, a respiratory therapist and associate professor in the Department of Cardiopulmonary Sciences at Rush University, wrote in April 2020 in the U.S. News & World Report that the 130,000 respiratory therapists in the US are short-staffed and overworked. To lessen the burden of front line workers, J. Brady Scott calls for more respiratory therapists to serve in clinical care and instructional roles “to train physicians without pulmonary or critical care backgrounds, as well as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and others who could help fill the workforce gap and support the sickest patients with Covid-19.”

Fortunately, the demand for respiratory therapists is matched by occupational trends. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021) predicted that openings in respiratory therapy will grow 19 percent nationally, which is much faster than the U.S. average for all fields (4 percent). This equates to 26,300 new RT positions in the coming decade.

Students aspiring to work in respiratory therapy can choose from on-campus or online respiratory therapy associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree programs. By pursuing a two or four-year degree, graduates from these programs can look forward to gratifying career opportunities in helping people breathe more easily and improving their quality of life in the coming decade.

Read on to learn more about becoming a respiratory therapist through online respiratory therapy associates degree and bachelor’s degree programs.

Admissions Requirements for Respiratory Therapy Programs & Accreditation

Keeping in mind that each school has unique admissions requirements, here are some documents and certifications commonly requested by respiratory therapy degree programs:

  • Application
  • 2.5 GPA
  • College-level prerequisite coursework including anatomy and physiology
  • Transcripts of all previous educational institutions

Admissions requirements specifically for bachelor’s degree programs commonly include:

  • Letter of reference from current employer
  • Proof of current registered respiratory therapist (RRT) credential through the National Board of Respiratory Care (NBRC)
  • Proof of certification for Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), Basic Life Support (BLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), and Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP)
  • Associate’s degree from an accredited Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) educational program

The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) is the leading accrediting agency for respiratory therapy associate, baccalaureate, and graduate degree programs. With a mission to ensure high-quality educational programs for the field of respiratory therapy, students, employers, and educational institutions can trust the quality of instruction at CoARC-accredited institutions. CoARC accreditation is limited to programs in the United States.

Online Respiratory Therapy Programs

Below are six online respiratory therapy programs: two associate’s degrees and four bachelor’s degrees. Please note that as of May 2021, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte currently has provisional accreditation through CoARC.

Online Respiratory Therapy Associate Degrees

Independence University

Independence University offers a fully online associate’s degree in respiratory therapy. The program offers online courses in subjects such as cardiopulmonary physiology and practical hands-on learning through supervised clinical experience with practicing respiratory therapists.

Graduates from this program are eligible to take the National Board of Respiratory Care (NRBC) credential exam to apply for licensure at the state level. Students from this program have gone on to work as respiratory therapists, sleep center technologists, polysomnographic technologists (RPSGT), and pulmonary function technicians.

  • Location: Ogden, UT
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC)
  • Tuition: $16,969 per year
  • Program length: 26 months

Southeast Community College

Southeast Community College offers a part-time online associate’s degree in respiratory care. Students can apply their classroom knowledge during practical clinical learning opportunities throughout the local region, featuring a comprehensive curriculum in patient assessment, treatment, disease management, diagnostic evaluation, and patient care.

Students who complete this program have the option of taking the NBRC credentialing exam to become RRTs or transferring their educational requirements for admission to a bachelor’s degree program in respiratory therapy. Enrollment begins fall and spring semesters and most graduates from this program secure job opportunities upon completion.

  • Location: Lincoln, NE
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC)
  • Tuition: $111 per credit for residents, $132 per credit for non-residents
  • Program length: 24 months

Online Respiratory Therapy Bachelor’s Degrees

University of Missouri

Mizzou Online, the University of Missouri’s online degree program, offers a fully online bachelor of health science (BHS) in clinical and diagnostic sciences, emphasizing respiratory therapy.

To graduate from this degree completion program, at least 30 of the final 36 credit hours must come from courses completed before graduation. This is an ideal degree program for those who currently hold RRT certification and want to complete a bachelor’s degree program while working full-time in their current respiratory therapist positions.

  • Location: Columbia, MO
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC)
  • Tuition: $12,502.10 total
  • Program length: 12 to 24 months

Nebraska Methodist College

Nebraska Methodist College offers a fully online bachelor’s of science (BS) in respiratory therapy (BSRT) degree through a degree advancement program.

There are no clinical hours required in this program, and students can choose from two advanced practice tracks: education and research or healthcare management and leadership. The curriculum of this program focuses on the holistic elements of the respiratory care profession, supports the changing role of the respiratory therapist, and provides instruction in health promotion, health education, leadership, and healthcare policy.

  • Location: Omaha, NE
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC)
  • Tuition: $580 per credit
  • Program length: 12 to 24 months

University of North Carolina – Charlotte (UNC)

The goal of UNC Charlotte’s fully online BSRT program is to advance the knowledge and professional skills of RRTs with associate’s degrees and prepare them for more expansive careers in respiratory therapy. The program builds upon content taught in most two-year respiratory therapy programs. Areas of emphasis include improved written and oral communication, evaluating clinical evidence, and software and web-based communication methods used in clinical administration.

Students in this program are expected to demonstrate knowledge of critical care pathophysiology and develop a research proposal related to clinical practice. This school features a “2+2 program” that admits students to the university awarded a two-year associate’s degree and who want to complete the last two years of the bachelor’s degree program at UNC.

  • Location: Charlotte, NC
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC)
  • Tuition: $188.48 per credit for residents, $347.32 per credit for non-residents
  • Program length: 24 months

University of Cincinnati (UC)

The University of Cincinnati offers a 50-credit online bachelor of science in respiratory therapy, focusing on empowering medical professionals to advance their careers and become leaders in the field.

UC requires that applicants apply to the program with an associate’s degree from a CoARC-accredited institution that also holds regional accreditation. Students must be credentialed as RRTs before being eligible to enroll in the advanced courses of the program. To make transferring credits easier, UC has articulation agreements with many community colleges around the United States. Current RRTs can also earn bachelor’s degrees online through this program in less than two years.

  • Location: Cincinnati, OH
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC)
  • Tuition: $512 per credit for residents, $527 per credit for non-residents
  • Program length: 24 months

Respiratory Therapist Job Responsibilities

Specializing in diagnosing and analyzing breathing conditions and techniques, respiratory therapists help people manage their breathing ailments. Through regular care with a respiratory therapist in a clinic, hospital, or even a home-based setting, patients suffering from chronic breathing problems can learn techniques and utilize technology to cope with, recover from, and find comfort with their breathing afflictions.

Students in online respiratory therapy associate degree and bachelor’s degree programs learn and practice these skills through didactic and practical courses taught by knowledgeable respiratory therapy professors with rich backgrounds in research and professional experience.

Below are three respiratory therapy professors from the degree programs above.

Respiratory Therapy Professors to Know

Kelly Cummins is an instructor of respiratory care and co-chair of polysomnographic technology at Southeast Community College (SECC) in Lincoln, Nebraska. She earned her master’s of science from Peru State College and a bachelor’s of science from Wayne State College.

Ms. Cummins has taught at SECC since 2005 and brought 12 years of professional experience as an RRT in an acute care hospital to her academic appointment. Her teaching philosophy is based on the idea that learning ought to be student-driven and instructor-navigated. Ms. Cummins enjoys being a part of the transformation that students go through in becoming professional respiratory therapists.

Lisa Fuchs was named program director of the respiratory care program at Nebraska Methodist University in 2016. Previously, she taught as a clinical instructor in the respiratory care lab from 2010 to 2011 and was promoted to director of clinical education for the respiratory care program in 2011. Ms. Fuchs has presented at several local conferences on tobacco cessation, healthcare reform, and medical ethics. She is a chairperson for the American Lung Association and a member of several professional associations related to respiratory health. Ms. Fuchs holds a master’s of public health from Bellevue University.

Jennifer Keely is an associate clinical professor in the respiratory therapy program at the University of Missouri. She earned her master’s of education and bachelor of health sciences in respiratory therapy degrees. Ms. Keely teaches courses in pharmacology and principles of mechanical ventilation. She has also led three clinical practice courses in the respiratory therapy program.

Rachel Drummond
Rachel Drummond Writer

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).