BSN@Home program receives award

The BSN@Home program, an online bachelor’s degree-completion program that provides a flexible distance learning option to busy registered nurses (RNs), is celebrating its 20-year anniversary. In 1996, the University of Wisconsin-Extension partnered with nursing programs at five UW institutions—UW-Eau Claire, UW-Green Bay, UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee and UW-Oshkosh—to launch the BSN@Home program. A sixth—UW-Stevens Point—joined the collaborative program in 2013. Over the last two decades, 1,804 graduates have earned their BSN degrees through one of these UW campuses, helping to increase the educational levels of nurses in Wisconsin.

On October 17, the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) will award the BSN@Home program the 2016 Celebration of Excellence Award for Mature Program. UPCEA is the leading association for professional, continuing and online education and serves more than 400 institutions, including most of the leading public and private colleges and universities in North America. The Mature Program award recognizes established credit or noncredit programs that have demonstrated sustained innovation.

At launch, the primary goal of the BSN@Home program was to help address the shortage of BSN-prepared nurses predicted by the Wisconsin Center for Nursing. As the program matured, its goal became even more relevant. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended that 80 percent of the nursing workforce have a baccalaureate degree by 2020. This recommendation is based on evidence showing improved outcomes for patients cared for by nurses with higher education levels.

“The Wisconsin Center for Nursing  2014 RN Workforce Survey noted that a substantial number of RNs still need to earn their BSN degrees if Wisconsin is to meet the goals set by the IOM. Because the demand for highly educated nurses is expected to outpace most other occupations over the next decade, we remain committed to finding innovative ways to help RNs complete their BSN degrees,” says Lisa Mihlbauer, chair of the BSN@Home Steering Committee, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“The BSN@Home program has built partnerships with agencies and technical colleges throughout the state and we will continue to provide this quality program in attempt to remove barriers to earning the BSN degree.”

The BSN@Home program was widely considered innovative at its launch. With the evolution of distance learning technologies, the program continues to earn recognition as an outstanding degree-completion program that helps build the Wisconsin workforce. Each of the nursing programs at the six campuses is fully accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
“When the program originally launched twenty years ago, many people thought a quality nursing program could not be taught from a distance; however, this innovative program has since become an enduring part of UW System,” says Sylvia Forbes, BSN@Home Program coordinator from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The initial idea for the BSN@Home program began in 1992. When the Wisconsin Center for Nursing predicted a shortage of BSN-prepared nurses, University of Wisconsin campuses recognized the need to rapidly increase the number of BSN holders in the state. Together, the original five campuses discussed the possibility of creating a single shared curriculum to replace the five existing ones to efficiently and effectively graduate more students and benefit from the shared resources of all participating institutions.

Under leadership from UW-Extension, faculty from the five University of Wisconsin campus nursing programs began meeting, resulting in the first collaborative nursing program to be offered within UW System. It was also a precursor to today’s online degrees and an early model of collaboration between campuses. Today, 12 of the 13 UW System four-year campuses participate in one or more of a diverse range of UW-Extension-hosted collaborative degree programs,

The delivery method for BSN@Home courses has progressed as technology has evolved. Courses initially consisted primarily of text and audiographics, and have since grown to include online forums and rigorous case studies. At its launch, the program earned the International Teleconferencing Excellence Award for a distance learning educational program. In 1996-1997, BSN@Home offered its first fully online course and by 1999, the entire curriculum was delivered via the internet. Learning tools continue to evolve, with students currently taking advantage of more enhanced, learning-specific platforms such as Desire2Learn.

“Patients, employers and the profession benefit when nurses advance their education. BSN@Home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make an impact on the quality of nursing care,” said Kim Litwack, Interim Dean, College of Nursing.