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UW System Collaborative Nursing Program
Helps RNs Earn Bachelor’s Degrees

 MAILED:  May 11, 2004

EAU CLAIRE — When Mona Howard graduates from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in December with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, she’ll finally have the diploma she began working toward 21 years ago.

“I’ve been slowly chipping away at the requirements for my bachelor’s degree,” said Howard, noting that she was an 18-year-old pre-nursing student at UW-Eau Claire when she left school to join the Marines in 1983. “But there have been many semesters when family and other obligations prevented me from taking classes.”

The Collaborative Nursing Program, a collaboration among all the UW System’s baccalaureate degree nursing programs, is making it possible for Howard to complete her nursing degree despite the challenges of attending college while working full-time and raising three children as a single parent.

Howard took nursing classes at community colleges during her four-year stint in the Marines and for several years after leaving the service. In 1994, she earned an associate’s degree in nursing from the Chippewa Valley Technical College. She has worked as a nurse in Luther Hospital’s cardiac unit for more than nine years.

The CNP program is designed for people like Howard — practicing nurses with associate degrees or diplomas in nursing who want to earn a bachelor’s degree but for various reasons have limited access to campus, said Elaine Wendt, associate dean of UW-Eau Claire’s School of Nursing. By offering courses online, the CNP provides flexibility so students can take classes without relocating, traveling great distances or coming to campus at specific times, she said.

CNP students choose a home institution from among the five UW System schools that offer nursing programs — Eau Claire, Madison, Oshkosh, Milwaukee and Green Bay. The home institution provides services such as advising and financial aid, but students can take online courses from any of the participating schools, Wendt said.

“By sharing faculty and other resources, the CNP arrangement gives students multiple options so they can enroll in classes that work for them and their schedules,” Wendt said, noting the online classes are available only to students registered in nursing programs at the five UW System nursing schools.

Degrees earned through the CNP program are fully accredited and approved by the Wisconsin State Board of Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Wendt said. It typically takes students two to four years to complete the program, which began in 1996.

“Initially, the program was overwhelming because classes were offered on a rotating cycle every couple of years and I had to be on campus for classes, which didn’t always fit into my schedule as a full-time employee and full-time mother,” said Howard, who began taking CNP classes in 1998. “The program evolved into a valuable institution. Classes are available online and are flexible.”

More than 100 students have been admitted to the program, with 10-15 students graduating each year, said Lorraine Smith, assistant to the associate dean of the School of Nursing and program coordinator. More than half the CNP students plan to eventually earn master’s degrees, she said, noting that about 9 percent of the students already have bachelor’s degrees but in fields other than nursing.

“CNP students are adult learners who are part-time students with work, family and community responsibilities,” Smith said. “They bring a wealth of professional and life experiences to the classes. They also are typically highly motivated and very involved.”

The constant interaction with other nursing professionals make the CNP classes particularly meaningful, Howard said.

“Credit is given and respected for the experience practicing RNs bring to the class,” Howard said. “In most classes, even online, the discussions are more like roundtables, exploring the elements of the nursing career as a profession. I’ve learned a lot in this format from other practicing nurses and the instructors.”

“The nurses who have completed the program tell us they are different nurses than they were when they started the program,” Wendt said. “It’s a very successful program, both for the students who earn their degrees and for the nursing profession that gains more skilled and motivated nurses.”

For more information about the Collaborative Nursing Program, contact Lorraine Smith at (715) 836-5287 or Information also is available on the Web.


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 Judy Berthiaume, Director
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 201
(715) 836-4741

Updated: May 11, 2004