Fueled perhaps in part by the struggling U.S. economy and long admission waiting lists at traditional nursing schools, many experienced nurses are turning to online degree programs to further their education and enhance their career prospects.
But while several major online nursing degree programs have become household names in recent years, e.g., Norwich University, Walden University, Excelsior College, Regis University, Kaplan University and the University of Phoenix to name just a few, many smaller private colleges and universities have long offered similar programs on a regional basis as well, while others are just beginning to get their programs off the ground.
And just like those programs at "bricks and mortar" nursing schools, many offer not only intensive nationally accredited curricula with clinical components, but also blogs and chat rooms to foster participation with other students and faculty members, and even lessons formatted for Podcast downloads.
St. Joseph's College of Maine, Augusta, ME, has been a leader in distance learning for nurses since 1986. The school offers BSN, RN-to-BSN, MSN, BSN-to-MSN degrees and graduate certificates in nursing, healthcare education and nursing administration and leadership that can be completed online. Accredited by American Association of Colleges of Nursing's Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the New England Association for Schools and Colleges, the online program accepts both domestic and foreign students.
The nursing program at St. Joseph's requires students to complete 63 semester hours through a combination of transferring (courses taken beyond the associate's degree), enrollment, and challenge tests such as the College Level Experience Program (CLEP) and DANTES for military personnel and their families, through which up to 30 credits can be earned.
Based on transcript analysis, incoming students can transfer up 95 credits for the RN to BSN degree program at St. Joseph's. Nurses with a nursing diploma receive 30 credits in transfer for the lower-level BSN nursing courses.
BSN applicants must hold a valid, unencumbered RN license "and possess the functional abilities to perform the skills and behaviors required of a professional nurse." Graduation requirements for the BSN include a minimum of 32 semester hours earned through Saint Joseph's, with at least 21 of those being in nursing.
"We'll accept some college course credits necessary for employment. Science courses like biology and pharmacology are transferable," said Lois Hamel, PhD, APRN, BC, director, Distance Nursing Education at St. Joseph's.
Students may choose to attend on-campus summer courses to speed up degree requirements. Tuition is $307 per credit which includes library access and career counseling. Financial aid is available and "I make it a point to know where to look for scholarships for our students," Hamel added.
Sharpening Skills Sets
Creating an affordable program and opportunity for registered nurses with an associate's degree or diploma to earn a BSN was one idea behind the online RN-to-BSN program launched in fall 2008 by Empire State College, State University of New York in Saratoga Springs, NY. Promoting community health and retaining the state's highly-trained nurses were also among the impetus for the program.
Tailored to early and mid-career nurses, the online program's unique curriculum was crafted to "sharpen critical-thinking skills, stimulate scientific inquiry and develop evidence-based practice" without losing site of the caring aspect of the profession, said Rosann Carpenter, EdD, RN, director of nursing and associate dean at the college (see Going the Distance).
Students are required to earn 60-68 credits including 40 from upper-division nursing courses. Tuition is $207 per credit hour, and the timeframe to complete degree requirements is approximately 24-36 months based on part-time or full-time studies. Although there are no residency requirements, the online programs require clinical experience (practicum) to be completed at partner sites in NY and surrounding states.
What's more, Empire State is transfer credit-friendly, Carpenter said. "Credits toward the 128-credit degree requirement may be gained from work experience, CEU's and college courses required by employers," she said, adding financial aid and scholarships are available.
The RN-to-BSN program is completing CCNE accreditation and its MSN program "is currently under consideration," Carpenter added.