College of Nursing receives 2012 Star Award

College of Nursing receives 2012 Star Award

by Ragini Venkatasubban

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has awarded the 2012 Star Award to the UTA College of Nursing and Dallas-based Academic Partnerships for the online RN to BSN program, according to a press release.

The award is part of statewide board’s Closing the Gaps by 2015 initiative. The Star Award is awarded to Texas institutions, organizations and programs that help “close the gaps” in student participation, success in higher education, excellence in programs and services and research development and expansion.

UTA is one of four winners of the award. The other three are Alamo Colleges, South Texas College and West Texas A&M University, said Mary Smith, Board assistant deputy commissioner for academic planning and policy.

Before the online program began in 2008, approximately 100 RN to BSN students graduated per year from the on-campus program. Since it began, 2,355 registered nurses have graduated with a BSN degree.

“It’s a huge opportunity for nurses who want and need to go back to school,” said Janet McLean, College of Nursing clinical instructor. For a registered nurse, coming back to school to get a bachelor’s degree in nursing is difficult, McLean said.

“If you know anything about nurses, you know we work all kinds of crazy hours,” she said. “For them to try and complete their degrees in a traditional classroom, it’s very difficult.”

With UTA’s online RN to BSN program, however, registered nurses can complete a Bachelor of Science in nursing in about 18 months — without ever stepping foot on campus.

Five thousand nurses are currently enrolled in the program, Elizabeth Poster, College of Nursing dean, said in a press release. Tuition for the online program costs $8,995, compared to $9,648 for the on-campus program and as much as $20,000 for some for-profit institutions.

Students in the online program take 35 credit hours of five- to eight-week courses.

“This gives them a lot of flexibility,” McLean said. “However, they are very challenging courses for the students simply because they’re not strung out over a whole semester.”

The hardest part is not getting to see her students, she said.

“In the classroom, you can see people’s faces and tell if they’re getting it or not,” she said. “Online, you don’t get to see your students respond at the moment you’re delivering the content. Your communication is generally through email instead of face-to-face.” McLean said she has taught students from all over.

“I’ve had students who were in Afghanistan on active duty,” she said. “Then, you have to take into account the time differences. It’s not just Texas.”

McLean uses video lectures, Internet readings and online discussions in her class.

The Star Award is a special recognition for the program, McLean said. Everyone teaching in the program has been there since it began, she said.

“We’ve had to create it,” she said. “We’re very proud of it and we feel like we’ve been able to make a difference for a lot more students than we would have been able to.”

More and more hospitals are requiring registered nurses to go back to school and get a bachelor’s degree, McLean said.

“The online program gives them the chance to do it and still have their job and their lives,” she said.

Mary Mancini, associate dean and chair of the Department of Undergraduate Nursing, said nursing faculty and staff are thrilled to receive the award.

“It reflects the commitment and achievements of many groups on campus — not just the College of Nursing — who are focused on helping registered nurses achieve their BSN degree,” she said in an email.

McLean said students in the program work hard.

“They have lots of work that they have to do each week to stay abreast of the course,” she said. “But I’d say it’s worth it.”

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