Nurse Researcher: Pandemic Had Heavy Impact on Black Girls’ Health

Nurse Researcher: Pandemic Had Heavy Impact on Black Girls’ Health

The physical, psychological and sexual development of Black adolescent girls has been “heavily impacted” by the COVID-19 pandemic, says Natasha Crooks, PhD, RN, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) College of Nursing.

Natasha Crooks, PhD, RN.Crooks has published a paper, titled “The Impact of COVID-19 Among Black Girls: A Social-Ecological Perspective,” in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, reporting on the findings of a qualitative study that featured interviews with 25 Black girls—ages 9 to 18—from December 2020 to April 2021. Most participants reported significant psychological and physical consequences, including depression and anxiety, disrupted eating, distorted body image, and changes in self-esteem.

“Black girls are a very vulnerable and unprotected population, especially within the context of COVID,” Crooks says. “I thought it was a really critical question to be asking youth: How has this impacted their perceptions of self?”

Black girls are particularly vulnerable because they enter puberty and develop secondary sex characteristics earlier than their non-Black peers, according to the paper, causing them to suffer from “adultification” and “sexualization by society.” This can lead to elevated sexual and mental health risks.

Crooks found that only two of the girls in the study received any formal sexual education during the pandemic, as schools opted to delay teaching sex education during online learning due to the sensitive nature of the topic.

“Missing such a critical component of education was alarming to me,” she says. “This is a critical period in their life. Just because the world stops, doesn’t mean their bodies stop growing and evolving.”

Social media also played an outsized role in the girls’ lives as they found themselves isolated from peers during quarantine. Some girls struggled with body image issues and eating disorders, Crooks says.

“They were sitting in their houses watching TV, or they were on social media sites like Instagram or Tik Tok, so they were constantly exposed to overly-sexualized, unrealistic expectations for what their bodies are supposed to look like,” Crooks says.

Conversely, a majority of the participants said the isolation and reduction in peer interactions allowed them to engage in emotional healing and self-discovery, independent from peer pressure.

The pandemic also intersected with the Black Lives Matters movement. As the participants increasingly turned to media in lieu of social interactions, they saw mistreatment of Black people by police, including the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, nationally broadcasted. These messages led to mixed feelings among the participants.

“A lot of what the girls talked about was feeling empowered to be Black and having a sense of pride within their identities,” Crooks says. “On the other hand, there was fear that came with color of their skin – fear of being harmed themselves, or their fathers, brothers or other family members being hurt. There was this constant fear and threat to Black families.”

Crooks says her research shows the need for more school-based programming to bridge the gap in sexual health education in schools, as well as the need for family interventions to instill protective strategies in Black girls to help them be prepared to handle threatening situations.

The 7 Best Nursing Schools for Nontraditional Students

The 7 Best Nursing Schools for Nontraditional Students

In many people’s minds, the “typical” nursing student is an 18- to 22-year-old enrolled in a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree program at a college or university. However, there are many degree options available for aspiring nurses at all stages of life—even if you’re a nontraditional student—and you’ll be graduated and putting on your scrubs before you know it.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a nontraditional student meets one of seven criteria: delayed enrollment into postsecondary education, attending college part-time, working full time, financially independent for financial aid purposes, dependents other than a spouse, single parents, or those without a high school diploma. If any of these describe you and you’d like to go back to school to get your nursing degree, here are seven online programs that anyone from around the country can take.

1. St. Xavier University

St. Xavier has numerous online options for those looking to earn nursing degrees. It offers an RN-to-BSN program for currently licensed registered nurses who have completed an associate degree in nursing (ADN) from an accredited school of nursing and are looking to take the next step in their education. St. Xavier was also named the best online master’s nursing program by U.S. News and World Report, and it offers three master of science in nursing (MSN) tracks online: clinical leadership, executive leadership, and nurse educator. If you’re not looking for the full degree, St. Xavier also offers certificates in clinical leadership and nurse educators.

2. Medical University of South Carolina

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) offers an online RN-to-BSN program, which is a 12-month program that covers three consecutive semesters, allowing registered nurses to earn their bachelor’s degrees in just a year. The online program is designed specifically for working adults. MUSC also offers several online advanced degrees in nursing, including a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) and a PhD in nursing science, though some of the courses may require a visit to campus.

3. Johns Hopkins

Johns Hopkins is an incredibly well-respected name in the medical community—and you can earn a graduate nursing degree from the university online. Johns Hopkins provides an MSN in health systems management both by itself and in combination with an MBA. It also offers a DNP in three specialties: adult-gerontological health clinical nurse specialist, adult-gerontological critical care clinical nurse specialist, and pediatric critical care clinical nurse specialist. You can also earn a DNP Executive Track, either on its own or in combination with an MBA. Finally, Johns Hopkins offers a couple post-master’s certificates for nurses looking for even more education.

4. George Washington University

George Washington offers a wide range of online programs for nurses of all experience levels. It has both RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN programs, as well as four other master’s programs for adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners, family nurse practitioners, nurse-midwifery, and nursing leadership and management. Other options include three post-MSN certificate opportunities, two post-BSN doctoral degrees, and two post-MSN doctoral degrees, including a DNP degree.

5. The University of Texas at Tyler

The great state of Texas has equally great online programs for nursing students through the University of Texas at Tyler. Its RN-to-BSN track has a flexible schedule and graduation date, so you can proceed through the coursework at your own pace as your current job allows. Their graduate options include four MSN programs (administration, dual MSN administration/MBA, education, and family nurse practitioner), four certificate programs (post-master’s administration, post-master’s education, post-master’s family nurse practitioner, and post-baccalaureate health care informatics), two PhD programs (MS-to-PhD and BSN-to-PhD) and one doctor of nursing practice (DNP). As an added bonus, the University of Texas at Tyler was named the #1 most affordable online master’s in nursing program.

6. Duke University

Duke’s School of Nursing has been using distance-learning education strategies for more than two decades, and the school has honed its creative approach to distance teaching and learning over the years. Some programs do include a few short on-campus intensive sessions, usually two to three days in length, but the commitments are minimal. Duke offers a doctor of nursing practice as well as eight different nurse practitioner tracks for their master of science in nursing: adult-gerontology (primary and acute), family, neonatal, pediatric (primary and acute), psychiatric mental health, and women’s health. It also offers three systems MSN degrees in nursing and health care leadership, nursing education, and nursing informatics.

7. University of Cincinnati

Cincinnati’s reputation as a great online nursing school has spread: The school’s number of distance learners has been increasing, and the website boasts that more than 62% of the student body is now enrolled in online classes. Most of its graduate nursing degrees are offered completely online, though a few courses do have minimal on-campus requirements for clinical or lab work hours, so don’t forget to pack your nursing bag. The school offers four MSN specialty programs (adult-gerontological primary care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, nurse midwifery, and women’s health nurse practitioner) as well as two post-master’s certificates (psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and family nurse practitioner).

If online classes don’t appeal to you, see if any schools in your area offer a nursing degree for working adults who usually rely on night and weekend classes in order to accommodate work schedules. And no matter how your get your degree, you’ll have to study for and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) exam if you haven’t already and perhaps pass additional licensure requirements depending on your state.

Whether you’re a working nurse looking to take the next step or a young professional looking to switch careers, there’s a nontraditional degree program out there for you. Thanks to the recent breakthroughs in education technology, students can now attend nursing degree programs online anywhere, anytime, and these seven well-respected programs are a great place to start.

Minority Nurse Educators in Cyberspace: A Progress Report

Minority Nurse Educators in Cyberspace: A Progress Report

While many nursing schools around the country have successfully increased their enrollments as well as the racial and ethnic diversity of their student populations, there continues to be a severe shortage of nursing faculty–and especially minority faculty. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (2005), fewer than 10% of the nation’s nursing educators are people of color.

To address this urgent need for more culturally diverse nursing faculty, the School of Nursing at Thomas Edison State College, an online college based in Trenton, N.J., received a $600,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to establish the Minority Nurse Educator program. Now entering its third year, the program provides experienced minority nursing faculty with the opportunity to enhance their skills and expand their expertise by preparing them for online teaching. With minority nursing educators in such short supply, training them to teach in distance learning programs will help make this scarce resource available to greater numbers of students than ever before.

Participants complete a 32-week Certificate in Distance Education Program (CDEP), then teach a 12-week online nursing course at Thomas Edison State College, under the guidance of an experienced mentor from the School of Nursing. Upon completion of the program, the minority faculty are ready to use their new distance teaching skills to introduce and expand online education programs at their own local institutions and across the nation.

Establishing the Need

In 2001-2002, Thomas Edison State College implemented its online RN-to-BSN program. Demographic data from the student population indicated that 25% of the students were racial and ethnic minorities. At that time, the program was open only to New Jersey residents. (It has been offered nationally since 2004.) The percentage of minority nurses in New Jersey at this time was 23%, which indicated that minority students were well represented at the School of Nursing.

Because of the high percentage of students of color in the program, we wanted to attract a similar percentage of minority faculty who could serve as mentors and role models. Our outreach efforts consisted of professional calls to minority nurses known to the dean, calls to several historically black nursing programs and requests for referrals from personal contacts. In the early days of the program, when the number of students enrolled was fewer than 250, these recruitment methods were sufficient. However, as enrollment grew, we found it increasingly difficult to maintain a similar minority mentor-to-student ratio using only these three methods.

Thomas Edison State College was already training nurse educators in online pedagogy, so it occurred to the dean that the same training could be offered to minority nursing faculty recruited as mentors for the online RN-to-BSN program. The idea for the grant was born. Once they became certified in distance education, the minority educators could be utilized not only by Thomas Edison State College but by any nursing program in the nation with online capability, regardless of geographical location. In addition, we felt that this could be a potential way to address the faculty retirement brain drain by enabling minority nurse educators to extend their tenure in the profession past the traditional retirement age.

To invite experienced minority nurse educators to participate in the CDEP, the School of Nursing used several recruiting strategies, including announcements in the nursing media, one-on-one recruitment at major national minority nursing association conferences, and advertisements in national and local newspapers and Web sites. In the first year, 19 educators were accepted into the program, with a 75% completion rate. For this first group of participants, the mentored online teaching experience is now in progress and will continue throughout this year.

A Growing Diversity

Summer 2007.Summer 2007

Of the 15 first-year participants who completed the CDEP, 67% are African American, 13% are Asian, 13% are Hispanic and 7% are American Indian (see Figure 1). Seventy-five percent of these nurse educators hold a master’s degree in nursing and 25% hold doctoral degrees (see Figure 2). The doctorally prepared candidates are from the African American and American Indian ethnic groups.

Geographically, our first-year grant participants come from many different parts of the country, including Georgia, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Missouri, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The majority are from the East Coast (see Figure 3).

As the program became more widely known, we received many additional inquiries and applications. The second-year cohort of grant participants consists of 42% master’s-prepared nurse educators and 58% who are doctorally prepared. The geographic range has expanded as well, with new participants from Alabama, California, Indiana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas.

We are currently constructing a database of grant participants who have completed the CDEP through the Minority Nurse Educator program. Information from this database will be shared upon request with schools of nursing across the United States who are interested in utilizing experienced minority online educators to increase their faculty diversity.

To promote collaboration and yearly networking, the HRSA grant has also enabled Thomas Edison State College to establish an annual Distinguished Lectureship on Cultural Diversity, which is hosted by the School of Nursing every fall. The first annual event, held last October 11, included speakers such as Kem Louie, PhD, RN, FAAN, past president of the Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association, and Hilda Richards, EdD, RN, FAAN, past president of the National Black Nurses Association. Information about the 2007 lectureship will be available in local and national nursing publications and on our Web site at

In summary, the Minority Nurse Educator program has proven to be successful. Nursing educators from across the country have demonstrated support for the concept of sharing minority nursing faculty in cyberspace to increase diversity in the nursing profession. The program has drawn highly talented minority nursing educators from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and geographical locations, and the number of educators who have expressed interest in participating has increased. As of this writing, some of our grant participants are already applying what they have learned in the CDEP course, and the feedback from the grant participants in general has been very positive (see sidebar).

Experienced Educators Invited

The third-year cohort of grant participants in the Minority Nurse Educator program will begin their CDEP courses this summer and fall. If you are an experienced nurse educator of color who is interested in expanding your skills into online teaching and course development, Thomas Edison State College School of Nursing would like to hear from you.

We are looking for candidates with at least two years experience teaching in a baccalaureate nursing program or equivalent. A minimum of a master’s degree in nursing is required; a doctorate in an appropriate field is preferred. Please send a CV to [email protected].


Funding for the Minority Nurse Educator program and annual Distinguished Lectureship was made possible (in part) by grant award # DIIHP05199 from the Health Resources and Services Administration. The views expressed in written conference materials or publications and by speakers and moderators do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the Health Resources and Services Administration, nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government.

Online Higher Education: The Key to Training, Recruiting, and Retaining More Hispanic Nurses

The numbers tell the story. 

Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the United States’ population—they currently comprise 16% and are expected to grow to 30% by the year 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, Hispanic nurses make up only 3.6% of all registered nurses in this country, as reported by the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (NSSRN).

While other minority populations experience problematic underrepresentation in nursing, it is especially apparent in the Hispanic community, and the gap widens every day. In 2008, only 5.1% of all RNs spoke Spanish, according to the NSSRN. There are not enough Hispanic nurses to deal with the health care issues facing this growing population, and the language barriers and lack of cultural understanding created by the void lead to substandard health care for the entire community. In fact, a July 2006 article published by USA Today pointed out that the lack of English language proficiency in patients directly contributed to diminished health care for those individuals.

A 2008 workforce survey showed that Hispanics were 28 years old on average when obtaining their initial licensure compared to an average age of 25 for whites. The most common type of initial R.N. education among Hispanics was the associate degree in nursing (55.1%) followed by the bachelor’s (39.4%), and then a hospital diploma (5.5%). Why does the associate degree come out ahead? The reason may be financial. The A.S.N. provides earning power earlier than a four-year bachelor’s program in nursing. Hispanics were also more likely to pursue a bachelor’s degree after obtaining the initial R.N. (41%), but were less likely to pursue graduate degrees (11%) than white, non-Hispanic RNs (39% and 14.5%, respectively). Hispanic nurses comprise only 3.5% of all nurses in advanced practice fields.

The vast majority of Hispanic nurses (68.8%) work in hospitals and then in ambulatory care (6.9%). Hispanic nurses also hold only 10.9% of all nursing management jobs, possibly due to the low number of Hispanic nurses with graduate degrees. Finally, there are fewer Hispanic mentors in higher education and nursing leadership positions who can guide other Hispanics. Attracting and retaining nursing students from racial and ethnic minority groups can’t be accomplished without strong faculty role models. According to 2009 data from American Association of Colleges of Nursing member schools, only 11.6% of full-time nursing school faculties come from minority backgrounds, and only 5.1% are male.

As the U.S. population becomes more diverse, leaders in multicultural segments, including Hispanic communities, must encourage minorities—and minority nurses—to become leaders themselves, so when they continue to build upon their skills and advance their careers, they will help themselves and their communities. Health care for this underserved population should ultimately improve if it helps members of the Hispanic nursing community become leaders in health care, experts in the growing field of nursing informatics, and trained nurse educators.

Taking advantage of the online learning environment

Many factors promote successful career development and mobility among Hispanic nurses, and one of the most important is the opportunity for educational advancement. Online higher education programs in the field of nursing help students develop critical leadership skills that, in turn, lead to improvements in their overall community. The online format provides flexibility, providing students the opportunity to take courses while meeting their professional and personal obligations, contributing to multiple other benefits of studying nursing online.

Minority students at all educational levels can see graduates from these programs as role models and examples of how they, too, can achieve success. In cases where students may be struggling, it’s especially important when they can point to a nurse in a leadership position—someone who looks and sounds like they do—as an inspiration to keep going, whether it’s toward getting a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.), a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.), getting a promotion, or taking on an important social change initiative to help a group in need.

Many of these minority students seek out mentors in school, possibly other minority nurses, and often go on to become mentors for the next generation of nurse leaders. For example, many of Walden University’s graduates work and teach in associate degree nursing programs, which have a large representation of Hispanic nursing students, and they help in retain these students through mentoring.

In some ways, online education “levels the playing field” for minority students, fostering increased participation and confidence that may lead to their greater success in the classroom and workplace. Many Hispanic students speak English as a second language and may write better than they speak. Since writing is integral to online learning, it adds a level of confidence that Hispanic students may not feel when sitting in a traditional, bricks-and-mortar classroom. There is no sitting in the back of the room or far from the action and dialogue up front. Consequently, minority students who may struggle in a traditional setting often thrive in online classes, which provide a unique venue for students to have a new voice, speak up, and become leaders in the classroom and beyond.

Increased participation in the online classroom has additional benefits for Hispanic and other minority nursing students. These students not only have the opportunity to hone their personal and professional skills and talents, but they can also develop relationships and network with other nurses across the country. A nurse working in the Cuban American community in South Florida may share best practices with a nurse working with the Mexican American population in Southern California. Or perhaps non-Hispanic nurses working with Hispanic patients may consult with their Latino classmates online for advice regarding how to provide the best care for these patients. Online higher education gives students a special way to connect so they can enhance their education and make a difference in the lives of many.

Making strides toward improving access

As a minority fellow of the American Nurses Association and a current board member of Ethnic Minority Programs for the organization, I work with my colleagues to develop proactive strategies to train, recruit, and retain more minority nurses, especially Hispanics. As Associate Dean of Walden University’s School of Nursing, I lead an experienced, dedicated, and talented team of faculty and staff focused on creating the next generation of leaders in the minority nursing community. Through programs like our Master of Science in Nursing and Bachelor of Science in Nursing Completion Programs, we can make great strides toward increasing the number of Hispanic nurses who serve as role models for the larger minority community.

For many M.S.N. and B.S.N. students, the training they receive in their online courses is put to work directly in their own communities. During their practicum or capstone course, M.S.N. students can choose projects that are inclusive of the needs of their workplace or neighborhoods. Often, these projects involve working with underserved populations to solve problems in community health care. B.S.N. students undertake similar projects in their community health practicum. They can all tap into their nationwide network of fellow students to come up with the best solutions for problems they encounter.

I especially recognize the importance of recruiting faculty members at the doctorate level from minority groups. Since there already is a shortage in the number of Hispanic nurses, you can only imagine how few in this population have earned their doctorates. Yet, they do exist, and when they teach, they make a difference.

One example is Patti Urso, Ph.D., A.P.R.N., C.N.E., Specialization Coordinator of Nursing Education, who currently teaches nursing education courses at Walden. Dr. Urso, a Cuban American originally from Miami, is a nurse practitioner who now lives in Hawaii and works with other underserved populations from Polynesian and Micronesian communities. In Hawaii, she engages with Hispanic patients through community churches and is involved in forming a new chapter for the National Hispanic Nurses Association. She hopes to inspire her students to reach out to underserved communities, and she mentors Hispanic students in the capstone course of the nursing education program.

One of the ways Dr. Urso works to connect with Hispanic nurses is through contact with alumni such as Lydia Lopez, one of the first graduates from Walden’s M.S.N. program in 2007. As a nurse and mentor, Ms. Lopez is committed to being a role model who recruits and retains minority nurses, keeping them interested in their course work and giving them the necessary tools and strategies to facilitate academic success. “True role models are those who possess the qualities that we would like to have and those who have affected us in a way that makes us want to be better people,” she says.

The nursing profession needs both men and women from all ethnicities to meet the needs of society. Minority nurses—especially Hispanics—with bachelor’s degrees and, eventually, master’s and doctoral degrees—who are prepared to educate and lead a new generation of minority nurses—will help improve this critical situation and provide essential health care for all.

Ever Upward

When health care workers such as paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or LPNs weigh the prospects of earning a nursing degree, the challenges can seem insurmountable. The stress and heavy workload of their current positions, as well as family and personal obligations, can make even the most ambitious student re-evaluate such a decision.

That’s where Excelsior College (EC) comes in. The school’s innovative online nursing program is designed to help health care professionals earn an associate’s, bachelor’s, or even a master’s degree while still working at their jobs and taking care of their families.

Thousands of nurses have taken advantage of this program since the college was established back in 1971. Called Regents College until early 2001, Excelsior College, based in Albany, N.Y., was renamed to focus on its “ever upward” philosophy and to mark its independent charter, granted by the New York State Board of Regents.

Founded to provide distance education and give nursing students a way to receive college credit for their prior health care experience and knowledge, Excelsior College lets students integrate what they already know into degree programs such as: Associate of Science, Nursing; Associate of Applied Science, Nursing; Bachelor of Science, Nursing; RN-to-MSN; and Master of Science, Nursing, with a major in Clinical Systems Management. An RN-to-BS(n) program was added in Fall 2001. The associate and baccalaureate degrees are accredited by the National League of Nursing (NLN) Accrediting Commission.

This novel distance education program is helping to address the nation’s urgent nursing shortage by providing nurses and other types of health care professionals with the ability to earn advanced credentials–or to refocus their careers into nursing—without having to take time off from their jobs.

“A Good Place for Minorities”

“From my perspective as an African American, it’s a good place for minorities,” says Sharri Pickney of Neptune, N.J., who graduated from Excelsior with an associate degree in nursing earlier this year. “Overall, it was a positive experience. The exams are fair, the instructors are there for you, you get to learn in your own style and my tuition dollars went further than at a traditional college. Whatever I asked, they answered.”

An agency LPN, Pickney shaped her degree program to fit her work schedule while reserving some time for herself. “As an LPN, I already had very good training as a nurse,” she explains, “so I thought it would be redundant to go back to the beginning at a traditional college. I could have finished [the EC program] in one year, but I took my time and spread it over two.

“People ask me, ‘Is it hard?’ I tell them it is challenging but if you study and know your critical elements, you’ll do fine.”
The EC School of Nursing actively recruits both minorities and men (see “Excelsior by the Numbers”). According to Associate Dean Marianne Lettus, “We have a higher percentage of male students than traditional programs. Many of

Independent Scholars

Both Lettus and EC Nursing School Dean Mary Beth Hanner are alert to the special needs of adult learners with prior nursing or health care experience. “Flexibility is the critical thing for most of our students,” Hanner says. “Their average age is around 40 and many of them have families.


“We are a distance-learning program and our students work at their own pace,” she adds. “They don’t have to focus on areas in which they already have extensive experience and expertise. For example, an OB nurse does not have to spend a lot of time in that area but might have to focus more on diseases of older adults.”


EC’s programs are not for everyone, Hanner concedes. “Students must already have a clinical background, such as LPN, EMT, military service corpsman (certain classifications), paramedic, etc. And potential students need to know that we do not provide instruction; we are an independent study program.”

However, this doesn’t mean that students are entirely on their own. The range of support services is extensive, and includes teleconferences, study guides, a bookstore, videotapes and workbooks, and more. In addition, an electronic peer network connects students with each other, helping to create a feeling of community.

Most Excelsior students come to the program with credits from a traditional college or university. When they enroll in the online college, they are assigned an advisor who does an official credit evaluation from the student’s previous transcripts and informs the student about how much of this prior work can be applied as credit toward their EC degree.

“They receive a letter explaining what they need to do and how to get started,” Lettus explains. “It’s up to the student what they do next. They may take general education courses at a regionally accredited college in their area or choose to take a CLEP exam or enroll in a distance-learning course. The majority of our associate degree students choose a combination of course work and examinations.”
For their nursing component, students in the associate degree program complete seven exams in nursing content. “There is a study guide for each,” says Lettus. “If students have concerns about taking the exams, they can call and make an appointment to talk with a faculty member by telephone.”

How much does all of this cost? At the associate degree level, costs include a $765 enrollment fee, which covers one calendar year of advising and evaluation services. For each year after that, the advising and activity fee amounts to roughly half the enrollment fee.

In keeping with the program’s emphasis on flexibility, many of the program costs can be handled on a pay-as-you-go basis. “Most associate degree students graduate in 18 months,” says Lettus. “They pay for each written exam as they take it. Nursing written exams are $145 and earn four semester hours of credit. The clinical exam is $1,200, the most expensive component. Books, tuition, etc. come to about $5,000 to $6,000 for the whole program.” The college also offers a variety of financial aid options.

The ASN and AASN programs have a 50-52% student retention rate that Lettus notes is about average for associate degree programs. The retention rate at the bachelor’s level is lower, in the 30-percentile range. “We have concerns about this,” she admits. “I think it is caused primarily by the fact that our students have full-time jobs and are required to do so much mandatory overtime.”

Best-Kept Secret

“I think Excelsior College is the best-kept secret in nursing education,” says Barbara Nichols, RN, DHL, MS, FAAN, an EC faculty member based in Philadelphia. “It’s an excellent school with a well-prepared faculty who are committed to excellence and to helping students achieve their goals. That makes for a phenomenal learning environment.”



Nichols, who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Black Nurses Association, is also CEO of the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools. When prospective students ask her about EC, she often encounters misconceptions. “Sometimes they think it is not a bona fide degree,” she explains. “Then they learn it is accredited just like [the schools of nursing at] Emory University or Vanderbilt.”


William Cody, RN, PhD, agrees. “The testing is rigorous,” he says. “That’s why it is such a reputable degree.” An associate professor and chair of the Family and Community Nursing Department at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, Cody earned a 1982 associate’s degree and 1986 BSN degree from EC when it was called Regents College.

At the time he first enrolled, he was an LPN working in an ICU. “I didn’t want to have to start over from the beginning, learning how to take blood pressure,” Cody recalls. “It was exciting to me to be able to move forward [with my education] and still support myself. Excelsior College’s programs are for self-starters.

“I’d never have become an RN without the college,” he continues. “I’ve heard a lot of [other EC graduates] say the same thing. It’s hard to be an LPN near the bottom of the pecking order and go to school. But Excelsior treats you with respect and wants to help you succeed.”
Now a member of the EC Nursing Family Committee, Cody is excited about remaining part of the college. “For me it was a journey from LPN to bachelor’s to master’s to doctorate to faculty member. They started the ball rolling; I would not be where I am without them.”
Cody believes the college is “very egalitarian about minorities and men in nursing. As a faculty member, I know that all of EC’s written course material is sensitive about gender, race and ethnicity. When I was at the 2001 graduation ceremony in June, the diversity was obvious–different accents, people of color, men and women. It was a celebration of diversity.”

Take Your College to Work

Elizabeth Critchlow Benfield was a home health nurse when she entered the bachelor’s degree program at Excelsior. She had a diploma in nursing from a non-U.S. school and was eager to earn her BSN. Still, making the transition took effort.


“It was difficult to work full time and complete the degree,” remembers Benfield, who is African American. “It took me a year to get my mind disciplined. I had to create a study space in one of my bedrooms and make myself sit there an hour a day.


“I tell people, ‘This is not an easy program,’” she continues. “It can be stressful, especially when you have to travel for clinical exams. I live in Brooklyn but because of the time frame I was working with, I had to go to California to take my clinicals. But in the long run it worked out well. It was a wonderful experience and the support was there for me. I was able to call the counselors and get advice as often as I needed.”

A June 2001 graduate of Excelsior’s BSN program, Benfield plans to forge ahead with both her career and her nursing education. “Occupationally, I can now become a supervisor in my department; educationally, I can earn my master’s degree,” she says.

Recognizing the difficult balancing act that working students face, some health care facilities are helping to ease the process for their employees by making arrangements with Excelsior College to conduct a Project LEARN (Learning, Experience, Assessment, Resources and Networking) program on site. Tina Raggio is director of Project LEARN at the Albany Medical Center in Albany, N.Y.

“The advantage of having a program on the premises is that it fits into our employees’ schedules,” she explains. Most Albany Medical Center student/employees can take their clinicals right at the hospital, reducing the cost and stress of having to travel to take them. In addition, a skills lab, library and on-site access to counselors are available at the facility.

Albany Medical Center has a contract with Excelsior College to administer the program for employees interested in pursuing a degree in nursing at the associate and bachelor’s level, as well as in the RN-to-MSN program.

Raggio, herself a 1987 EC graduate, says the on-site program is welcomed by both supervisors and students. “Over 300 students here are taking advantage of it,” she says. “There is a tremendous demand in nursing , and there are more Project LEARNs in the works for Excelsior.”

Learning for Success

Ask Katrina Brown, RN, currently a student in the BSN program at EC while working as a nurse at Ohio State University Hospitals East in Columbus, if she would do it again and she answers with an immediate “Yes!”

“The experience has benefited me greatly,” she says enthusiastically. “As of July, I am now associate director of Perioperative Services at the hospital. Attending Excelsior contributed to that advancement. It taught me leadership ability and organizational skills.”

Brown, who is African American, found the college a good fit. “It is particularly friendly to minority students,” she emphasizes. “Because it’s an online college, I don’t think they even know your race. I’m a single mother who works full time. I’ve been a nurse since 1985 and a perioperative nurse in the OR since 1992, so testing out of the basic nursing courses was not hard for me to do.”

Brown is a good example of an independent learner who knows how to take advantage of the college’s flexible options to meet her particular needs. “At one point I felt I needed an instructor, rather than preparing for my clinicals alone,” she relates, “so I took a class at the local community college to assist me in learning the proper techniques for doing a physical assessment. The Excelsior programs are meant for mature adults who know when they need a class to help them.”

On June 30 of this year, Brown traveled to Albany to be inducted into the Honor Society at Excelsior College. “It was one of the best experiences I ever had,” she says. “They welcomed me with open arms.”