Abstract: This paper discusses the development and implementation of an online curriculum for Registered Nursing students in a rural area of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana using the eCollege system.
Key Words: Online Education; Rural Education for RN Students; eCollege System
Located in Mobile, the University of South Alabama is a progressive, state-supported University with programs of study in the Colleges of Arts & Sciences, Business & Management, Engineering, Allied Health, Medicine, Computers and Information Sciences, Education and Nursing. The University operates three tertiary-care hospitals and a number of clinics and has a nursing student enrollment of over 800 students, 117 of whom are in the RN-to-BSN tract. The RN-to-BSN track is very important for this region because the majority of nurses working in the three-state area of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana hold the associate degree as their highest nursing degree. Data from several sources document the substantial interest many of these nurses have in continuing their education to obtain a BSN degree which will open up many leadership options and improve job security and salaries.
As part of a University-wide initiative to offer Internetbased courses, the College of Nursing decided to deliver their RN-to-BSN courses on the Internet via the wellestablished national eCollege system. All of the required courses for the RN student (except for two clinicals which RNs take via preceptorships in their home communities) are available for rural RNs on the Internet. The University coordinated an on-line campus for the distance learning student to register, pay fees, order textbooks, access library resources and use student services. The system also provides students the opportunity to interact with others in the academic community via the on-line campus. There is no out-of-state tuition for the online nursing courses. E-- College provides a 24-hour help-desk for faculty and students.
To evaluate this program, rural nurses completing all of their RN-to-BSN nursing courses via the Internet will be compared directly with a cohort of students who take all of their RN-to-BSN courses in the traditional on-campus setting. This will provide a unique situation for the assessment of this model for Internet-based delivery of nursing courses.
The initial impetus for this project came from requests from RNs and nurse executives throughout the region who reported frustrations with distance and lack of access to educational resources. As of 1996, the Alabama Board of Nursing recorded 34,096 RNs located in the state with 29,863 employed in nursing (24,994 employed full-time). As of 1996, an estimated 36% of Alabama RNs held associate degrees, 32% held baccalaureate degrees in nursing, 18% held diplomas, 9% held masters or doctorates and 5% had other baccalaureate degrees (Alabama Board of Nursing Annual Report, 1996). Further, the state continues to graduate more associate degree nurses than BSN graduates. The Alabama Board of Nursing Annual Report (199596) reports 1,850 nursing graduates from associate degree in nursing programs in 1995-96 as compared with 1, 155 BSN graduates. This constitutes 61% of Alabama's graduates. The ratio of nurses to population for Alabama is 699 per 100,000, which falls below the 726 RNs per 100,000 for the U.S. as a whole. At least 6,711 associate degree-prepared nurses currently reside in Alabama' rural counties.
Data provided by the Mississippi Board of Nursing (RNs, FY 1998, Active License, by County of Residence) indicate that there are 28,052 RNs with an active license. Of these, 11 % are diploma prepared, 51 % are associate degree-prepared, 27% are BSN prepared, 3% have nonnursing baccalaureate degrees, 5% are MSN prepared, 25 have non-nursing masters degrees and 1% are doctorally prepared. Sixty-five percent of Mississippi's population and 61% of its' RNs live in rural counties. …