Fostering Retention: A Success in Transitioning a RN-BSN Program to Online Delivery

Sunday, 8 November 2015: 4:20 PM

Cynthia Rubenstein, PhD, MSN, BSN, RN, CPNP-PC
Georgia Baptist College of Nursing, Mercer University, Atlanta, GA, USA
Nena Powell, PhD, MSN, BSN, ADN, RN
Department of Nursing, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, USA

Background Information:  Poor student retention with online courses has been documented.  The Allen and Seaman (2013) survey noted that although higher education had rapidly embraced online education, there is a noted trend downward with student retention with online course delivery.  There is a dearth in the nursing literature related to retention rates for RN-BSN students enrolled in distance courses and/or programs.  Distance education for RN-BSNs does demonstrate the need for student-centered strategies to promote retention of this diverse student population. The literature clearly articulates that RN-BSN students also have unique challenges related to time constraints, work-life balance, personal issues, financial constraints, fear and motivation (Romp, et al., 2014; Gillespie & Langston, 2014). Transitioning the JMU RN-BSN hybrid program to an online delivery format required specific attention to ensuring retention and graduation of admitted students. This was accomplished with an emphasis on seamless progression and an academic success course that included an onsite orientation.

Description of program practices:  A needs assessment with rural RNs in the state of Virginia was conducted to ascertain specific information related to program delivery as well as barriers to enrollment.  This data, in conjunction with an analysis of the literature and input from community and state partners, provided the foundation for innovative strategies integrated into the curriculum to promote student retention in the RN-BSN program. Variables deemed critical to the success of students included connections/relationships, academic/technology support and strong faculty advisement. Articulation agreements were developed with several associate degree programs to promote seamless progression towards BSN completion. This collaboration supported students in actively completing general education and prerequisite coursework required by the university while enrolled in their associate degree programs. The specific strategies integrated into the RN-BSN curriculum included an academic success course incorporating onsite orientation, relationship building with peers/faculty and technology support. 

Summary of recommendations: With the transition of the RN-BSN to online delivery in August 2013 and the subsequent admission of a second cohort in January 2014, the retention rate was 97% for the first year of the online program delivery. Enrollment in the program increased by 343%, from 2012 to 2014.  A survey of enrolled students identified that the mandatory onsite orientation was an effective strategy for socializing students to the university, RN-BSN program, technology support services and peers/faculty.  Designing an onsite orientation that provides opportunities to employ all technology and software that will be used in the online delivery of the program enhances students’ confidence and skills once participating in the program from a distance. The online JMU RN-BSN program demonstrates that with a student-centered focus on the needs of this diverse student population, retention rates can exceed national standards for both undergraduate nursing programs and online programs in general.