Kate Tredway, BA, MBA, MSN, RN, University of Illinois at Chicago

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Kate Tredway, BA, MBA, MSN, RN, Academic Director, RN-BSN Completion Degree, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), joins us today to discuss online undergraduate completion degrees.

Can you tell us about the online RN-BSN Completion Degree offered at UIC? Open to registered nurses who have an associate’s degree or diploma from an accredited nursing program, UIC’s RN-BSN Online Completion Program is a highly ranked 30 credit degree, offered 100% online. Students receive engaged advising as they take prerequisite courses at their community college of choice, then enroll at UIC where they receive 33 proficiency credits in recognition of their nursing background, and where they take 8 online upper level nursing courses (30 credits) culminating in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). For 2015 US News & World Report has ranked UIC number 2 in the nation for online baccalaureate degrees, and number one in student engagement within these degrees.

How long does a typical online RN-BSN Completion degree take at UIC? Once enrolled at UIC, the student takes 8 eight upper level nursing courses, one at a time, each for 8 weeks, thus the program can be finished in as little as 16 months. UIC’s typical student in the RN-BSN program takes 20 months to complete the degree. This is because students are allowed to “stop out” at any point in their course progression to address home, work, and life issues. Students can easily rotate back into the course progression when they are ready. University policy allows a student a maximum of four years (continuous enrollment) to complete the degree, though we have never had a student in the RN-BSN degree program require this amount of time.

What do you think makes UIC’s RN-BSN Completion Degree stand out from other online RN-BSN Completion degrees? UIC is a highly ranked and respected College of Nursing. It is ranked number 2 in the nation for NIH Research funding, and, as indicated above, number 2 in the nation for online baccalaureate degrees. The RN-BSN Completion degree is the older and larger of the only two online baccalaureate degrees offered currently at UIC.  1 in 10 nurse practitioners in Illinois is a UIC graduate. Students in the UIC RN-BSN program overwhelmingly report that the curriculum challenges them to a fuller understanding of the vast role, purpose, and practice of the nurse; increases their knowledge of physical assessment, health promotion, nursing research, nursing informatics, and nursing management; and further develops their skills in leadership, research, assessment, patient-centered care, policy development, patient and professional advocacy, communication, and collaboration. UIC’s online baccalaureate degrees are ranked number 1 in the nation for student engagement. From first inquiry to graduation UIC students are guided by dedicated expert advisers along a seamless pathway to achieving their goal of a BSN. Instructors are expert in the content, and are accessible, responsive, and empathetic. The courses are designed based on best practices and principles of instructional design and thus offer organized, engaging content, and stimulating problem based, real world assignments. We at UIC College of Nursing know the RN-BSN program is outstanding and that assessment is borne out by comments and sentiments of our students, and the independent evaluation of accrediting bodies and renowned ranking institutions.

How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online RN-BSN Completion Degree? It is extremely important. Accreditation is a generally accepted method of gauging quality and strength of a nursing degree program. In addition, in the nursing profession it is critical that registered nurses be and become life long learners, constantly increasing their knowledge and credentials in this continually evolving field. BSN prepared nurses should anticipate continuing on to graduate school. To be accepted in high quality graduate programs, an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution is essential.

There is some debate as to whether or not online RN-BSN completion degrees are as worthwhile as traditional degrees. What steps does UIC take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they’d receive in a classroom? Well, this a debate that is too extensive for this short interview, but I hold that it might be a false assumption to accept that “traditional” classroom education methods are the best method for today’s adult nursing student. It’s a false dichotomy to pit classroom education against online education in a struggle for which one is better. They are both highly effective teaching environments and methods. The better question to ask is whether online education is in itself an effective learning mechanism, and wholeheartedly the answer is yes. For one thing it is accessible. No matter how great a person might think traditional classroom education is, if you can’t get to campus 3 days a week, you can’t partake in it, which immediately makes it, for that student, an ineffective teaching mechanism. Online education because of its accessibility opens the world of nursing education to the multitude who do not have the ability, for a variety of reasons, to travel to a campus to attend scheduled courses. Next, online courses require that EVERY student participate. This brings into the course the views, experience, and even communication style of every student in the course, rather than those of only the most vocal students in the course. UIC ensures that the online students are having a quality experience by designing the courses based on best practices for online instructional design. Courses are designed to activate students’ current knowledge of real world nursing issues through assignments which ask them to provide current thoughts and experience on a nursing topic; demonstrate new knowledge through assigned readings and a variety of multimedia sources that clarify content; apply that new knowledge within written assignments and class discussion; and finally to integrate the new knowledge into real world practice experiences, both as an individual or within a team.

UIC’s RN-BSN courses are taught by masters and doctoral prepared instructors who are expert in the content of the course, have extensive online teaching experience, and who are active practitioners in a variety of nursing specialties. Their combination of online teaching experience and specialty nursing practice make them uniquely qualified to present the real world integrative practice experiences the courses are designed to create for the students. This rigorous curriculum and engaging instruction is supported by a team of student advisers available for care and support, and a team of accessible and quick-response tech support experts to help students and faculty address tech issues that might arise.

What are the advantages to earning an RN-BSN completion degree in general? This has been an ongoing debate in nursing for over 50 years. It’s only over the last 15 years or so that the research has been done and the evidence shows that nurses having a bachelor’s degree or higher has a direct impact on positive outcomes for patients. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense, right? How would more formal nursing education make anyone a worse nurse? Nursing is complex and only becoming more so. It requires a wide knowledge base in biosciences, social sciences, information technologies, patient care technologies, health care administration, finance, and policy, and skills in assessment, problem solving, decision making, interpersonal interaction, communication, collaboration, and caring. To gain expertise in these areas requires both work experience and more formal education. Employers are beginning to recognize this and are starting to require a BSN or higher for employment. Even state legislatures responsible for the health and well being of the state’s population are discussing legislation requiring nurses to have bachelor’s degrees or higher in order to practice. The nursing profession will continue to offer entry into nursing through degree programs at community colleges, but continued licensing, employment, and competence in patient care will require that nurses go on to achieve their BSN.

Does UIC offer job placement for students who graduate from your RN-BSN Completion Degree? Not directly. By the very nature of this type of degree, all the students are already registered nurses, so most already have employment. Recent anecdotal evidence indicates that for those who cannot find employment, the reason is that they do not have a BSN degree or higher. Therefore, enrollment in and completion of the UIC RN-BSN degree removes their last barrier to employment, and because UIC is so widely known and highly respected, their BSN completion degree from UIC offers them an added credential in competitive markets.

What type of financial aid packages are available for students in nursing? Because in an RN-BSN completion degree students are still working on an undergraduate baccalaureate degree, they are eligible for all the typical federal and state financial aid scholarships, grants, and student loans. Students apply for these through the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) program. At UIC, students enrolled in the online RN-BSN degree program are assisted with all aspects of enrollment, registration, and financial aid application through the dedicated advisers associated with the program.

Are there any fellowships, grants and scholarships available? UIC’s Online RN-BSN Completion students are fully part of the highly respected UIC College of Nursing and therefore are eligible to apply for 12 different internal College of Nursing scholarships.

Do you have any advice for students enrolling in an online RN-BSN Completion Program for the first time? Yes. First, shop around. There are A LOT of online RN-BSN completion programs, but they are not all the same quality, rigor, or reputation. Second, do not simply go for the cheapest or the easiest program; what you will end up with is a quick, cheap degree. A quick, cheap degree might get those letters behind your name sooner, but in the long run will ill serve you in achieving the true goals of advanced education. The goals are and should be to expand your knowledge, skills, and abilities; to broaden your perspective and thus your critical thinking; to hone your leadership skills, and to make you a valuable participant and engaged leader in the most trusted profession, nursing. Your patients and the nursing profession need you to be an engaged and dedicated participant in nursing practice, leadership, research, and education. How good you will be at all of that is strongly influenced by whether you choose a high quality, high reputation, rigorous and challenging RN-BSN program or a quick and cheap one. Your call.

What do you enjoy most about your position at UIC? As Academic Director of UIC’s RN-BSN Completion degree, I love receiving a statement like this from a student, which happens all the time; this one was sent to one of the instructors a couple of days ago.

I just wanted to say as we are almost halfway through this class; I was so dreading coming back to school to do more busywork.  I, however, am loving it! (although still working on deadlines).  You really get the critical thinking going and I appreciate what I am learning as well as the challenge.  Thanks for pushing us and making us better. 

This type of statement is from a student half way into his first course at UIC. It reflects the high quality of the content that is being provided and the level of engagement and interaction with the instructor and classmates. In addition, I think this type of comment shows that, through online courses, rigorous content can be presented in a dynamic and challenging way that engages the student.

For more information on the highly ranked, online RN-BSN Completion Degree offered at University of Illinois at Chicago, visit them online at http://go.uic.edu/nj.

Thank you Kate Tredway for sharing and participating in this piece.

That concludes our interview!

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