IDEAS

Flexible options meet students’ needs
Tanya Kreil found UWM’s online RN to BSN program a perfect fit for her peripatetic life as a travel nurse. (Photo by Troye Fox)

Online classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee were a perfect fit in Tanya Kreil’s life.

She was working as a travel nurse when she decided to go back to school. In that job, she took on assignments to help out at hospitals that needed extra nursing coverage for short time periods – while going through a computer conversion, for example.

While traditional classes didn’t work for her, she recognized the need to improve her skills and credentials, and wanted to sign up for a program that would help her make the transition from Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). “An increasing number of hospitals and organizations want you to have the bachelor’s degree,” she says.

“My primary reason for doing it online was it was more convenient.”

Her sister had earned a Business and Marketing degree at UWM and recommended the university to Kreil. The cost was affordable and the program flexible enough to accommodate her learning – even when she was temporarily working at hospitals hundreds, and even thousands, of miles away.

“I could work on my classes pretty much wherever I was as a travel nurse. If I had any questions, someone was available to answer them by phone, or I could email to the teacher.”

Kreil, who now works for Aurora Health Care, is currently in her last semester of UWM’s RN to BSN program to do her practicum and will be on campus for that. But, other than the practicum and one nutrition course, she’d done all her work off campus. Over the summer, she took a mathematics course at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).

The College of Nursing’s RN to BSN program is one response to that reality. The college already offers online and on-campus versions of the program, and in November will add a new choice as one of four programs that will launch the University of Wisconsin System’s innovative Flexible Option Program.

That program, announced in November 2012, will allow students to learn at their own pace and potentially earn credit by passing assessments that demonstrate mastery of required knowledge and skills.

The UW System is expected to be the first public university system in the nation to offer this type of competency-based, self-paced learning option, said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly when the program was announced. The goal is to increase the work skills of adults, focusing on the largest skills gaps in Wisconsin: health care, information technologies, and business and management. (See story below for updates on the Flexible Option program).

UWM will be the first four-year UW System campus to offer the new flexible programs. The College of Nursing RN to BSN program is the only one in the state to offer three choices for BSN completion: online, face-to-face and the competency option, according to Doris Schoneman, director of RN Education. Students may, she adds, use any combination of those options in completing the program.

And, in future, the College of Nursing intends to offer the RN to MN program as part of the flexible program.

Kreil, who started the RN to BSN program two and half years ago, long before the Flexible Option was announced, is already thinking ahead to working on her master’s degree. One thing is sure, she says: She’ll continue to appreciate the flexibility of programs that allow her to keep up with her job responsibilities and complete her degree at her pace.

“I liked the flexibility. It’s much more convenient to do your classes around your work schedule.”

Updates on the Flexible Option Program

In early July, the Higher Learning Commission notified UWM that four direct-assessment, competency-based programs, including the RN to BSN, the Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences with a Diagnostic Imaging submajor, the Bachelor of Science in Information and Technology, and the Certificate in Professional and Technical Communication, had been approved.

These programs will be offered starting later this fall, according to Aaron Brower, interim provost and vice chancellor for UW-Extension, which is overseeing the Flexible Option Program.

Also in July, the UW System Board of Regents approved tuition of $2,250 for a three-month session, called the “all-you-can-learn” model, which allows students to take as many assessments as they can during that time frame, allowing them to progress as quickly as possible. Students who intend to study at a slower pace during a three- month session may enroll part-time. There will also be a “pay-for-assessments-as-you-go” model, which won’t be available yet this fall, according to Brower.

Applications for the degrees offered in the flexible option format at UWM will be accepted beginning later this fall, with academic work most likely starting after the new year. The applicants will use the UW System Electronic Application (https://apply.wisconsin.edu) to apply.

At this point, almost 3,000 people have expressed interest in pursuing degrees offered in the flexible option format. The program office is discussing programs at other UW institutions that might be a good fit for the UW Flexible Option, according to Brower, with an announcement about those programs expected in late fall.

For more information, go to: http://flex.wisconsin.edu/.

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