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What Does Online CPE Look Like?

Updated: Nov 10, 2022

Online Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) continues to proliferate...and I love it! The photo above is a picture of my new group of online CPE students who began a couple of weeks ago (they all gave me permission to post this photo). They live in Texas, New Jersey, and New York and serve in congregations, the military, and health care settings. I receive a lot of questions about online CPE from prospective students (and skeptical colleagues) so here is my running list and responses.

What Does a Typical Week Look Like for an Online CPE Student?

Each unit of ACPE-accredited CPE is a 400-hour program. It consists of 250-300 clinical hours (time spent in ministry) and 100-150 education hours (time spent in didactics, group, and individual supervision). The program I am currently leading is a 23-week program which means each CPE student must complete 11-14 clinical hours and 4-7 education hours per week. This group meets on Thursdays from 12:00 pm EST to 4:00 pm EST for education plus 1 hour every other week for individual supervision. They also have some asynchronous coursework to complete that takes 2-3 hours per week. I use Google Classroom as the learning management system for my online CPE program.

Are Online CPE Students Required to Travel to the CPE Center?

Some CPE centers require online CPE students to travel to their location and some do not. Prior to the pandemic, it was common for online CPE programs to require students to gather in person at the beginning and end. Once the coronavirus set in that ended and it remains to be seen if CPE centers will pick it back up. Gathering in person can be great for getting to know one another and group formation, but it is expensive depending on how far away from the CPE center students live.

Where Do Online CPE Students Do Ministry?

Online CPE students find a place to do ministry that is local for them. For example, three of my current students use their congregations, two use local hospitals, and one is a reserve chaplain in the military. In many cases, having a local site is the only (or most convenient) way for students to take CPE. They aren't always in the position to quit their job or reduce their hours so they can volunteer at a hospital to learn spiritual care. This is an equity issue and I think we educators need to consider how much of a privilege it is to pay to work full-time in the summer or part-time during other times of the year.

Who Oversees Online CPE Students' Onsite Ministry?

Each online CPE student has an onsite preceptor who enters into an agreement with the ACPE-accredited CPE center. The onsite preceptor ensures:

  1. There is an adequate population for the CPE student to minister to.

  2. There are sufficient resources such as a place to sit, a computer on which to document, etc.

  3. The student will receive guidance as needed.

The onsite preceptor meets regularly (about once per month) with the ACPE certified educator to discuss the student's growth and development.

How Much Does Online CPE Cost?

Tuition costs for online CPE vary. Several programs charge as much as $3000 per unit, while others charge the same amount as in-person CPE (anywhere between $300-$1200).

Why Does Online CPE Cost So Much More than Traditional CPE?

There are a lot of factors that go into determining the cost of CPE tuition. When students do traditional, in-person CPE they provide service to an institution. That service is of some value which, in some cases, accounts for lower tuition. When students do online CPE they are not providing service to the CPE center, therefore the center loses value. The educator's time which is paid for by the center is going to supervise students who provide service to another institution. In many cases, online CPE programs charge more for tuition to buy back the educator's time.

How Effective is Online CPE?

It is hard to say how effective online CPE is compared to in-person CPE because neither one has been studied very much. Researchers in other related professions like counselor education and psychology have studied online clinical supervision and found it to be equal or, in some cases, more effective than in-person clinical supervision. I wrote a paper about this which you may find here. In the end, I conclude that online CPE needs more research before we can answer this question.

How Can I Find an Online CPE Program?

If you are interested in doing online CPE then check out If you change the "units offered" field to "online options" then you can see all the ACPE-accredited CPE programs with online programs.

What other questions do you have about online CPE?

Post them in the comment section below.


Here are some peer-reviewed articles about online CPE:

Online Clinical Pastoral Education Needs More Research

COVID-19 and Clinical Pastoral Education: How ACPE Educators Pivoted Amid the Pandemic

Delivering Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Remotely: Educators’ Views and Perspectives During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

Here is a webinar from the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab and the ACPE about online CPE:

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I live in a small town in southern Ohio and I had to actually rent an apt. for my internship in Michigan, and another in mid-Ohio for my residency for a year. I loved both of my experiences, but aside from the cost and gas money to come home on weekends, when I did come back to our small town, there were really no jobs at our small hospital/hospice. I am contingent one weekend a month at the hospital and occasionally for the small hospice. So, yes, an online CPE would have been helpful but I would have missed the large urban hospital experience that was so very valuable to my practice - the diversity of my intern/resident group and…

David Fleenor
David Fleenor
Oct 27, 2021
Replying to

Thanks for sharing your experience. I resonate with the many trade offs you mentioned. Online CPE may be more convenient and less expensive (in some cases) but may not provide the intense clinical environments and diversity of an urban in-person program. Perhaps we can create the best of both worlds as we gain more experience with online CPE.


Writing from Melbourne Australia - we have been pleased to be able to continue with CPE programs during lockdowns by taking the education sessions on line when groups are not permitted to meet. CPE Interns were considered essential workers in many of our hospitals and permitted onsite with appropriate PPE. We took the edu on line so participants could speak without masks. Being able to Zoom from their home seems to provide a level of safety/trust that facilitates sharing. A number of CPE centres are now conducting fully online units with the same arrangements for an on-site overseer allowing people in remote locations to have access to this training that was not possible before. I believe costs for both on-sit…

David Fleenor
David Fleenor
Nov 08, 2022
Replying to

Rosalyn, here are the two studies and another paper about online CPE. Hope they are helpful:

Online Clinical Pastoral Education Needs More Research:

COVID-19 and Clinical Pastoral Education: How ACPE Educators Pivoted Amid the Pandemic

Delivering Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Remotely: Educators’ Views and Perspectives During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

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