Journal of Nursing Education

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Thoughts of College Graduates in a Nursing Baccalaureate Program

Eileen P Sheil, PhD, CNM; Rebecca Wassem, DNSc, CRNA

Abstract

Declining student enrollments and governmental funding compounded by market demand for more nurses have forced nurse educators to explore ways to attract different populations of students into nursing programs (Crosby, 1985; Schraeder, 1989). Second-degree students have historically been admitted to and successfully completed baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in the United States (Feldman & Jordet, 1989; Slavinsky & Diers, 1982; Smith, 1989). Diera (1987) reported a very low attrition rate for this population. In this paper, the thoughts and experiences of college graduates enrolled in a baccalaureate nursing program are reported.

Method

A survey of non-nurse college graduates enrolled in one baccalaureate program was conducted to explore the feasibility of developing an accelerated option for this type of student. After contacting seconddegree students by telephone, personal interviews were scheduled to obtain study data. Experiences in the program, thoughts and suggestions about an "ideal" baccalaureate program for college graduates, and plans for graduate study were also explored using an interview guide. Students were asked to identify reasons for choosing nursing in general and this school Ui particular. Duration of interviews was about one hour each.

Subjects

There were 27 non-nurse college graduates among the 574 students enrolled in this baccalaureate program. Prior degrees had been granted by state-supported colleges (n = 16) and private schools (n = 11). Majors were in the sciences, applied sciences, business, and letters. Using a fourpoint scale, the mean grade point average of the group for the first baccalaureate degree was 2.938 (SD = .426). The mean grade point average for work completed since admission to nursing studies was 3.499 (SD = .478). Ages were between 23 and 41 years (x = 32.24 years; SD = 5.321 years).

All 27 students were contacted by telephone; a convenience sample of 17 students (63%) was interviewed. Respondents were representative of all levels of the program; four were completing prerequisite courses, five were second-semester sophomores, four each were in the third and fourth years of the program.

Why Nursing?

While many respondents gave more than one response to the question, "Why did you choose nursing as a second degree?", the reasons given fell into four major categories: initial interest in nursing, work dissatisfaction, recommendations by others, and benefits of nursing. Seven respondents indicated that nursing was their first interest but that they had pursued other studies te please family members and others. Some found the work for which they were initially prepared to be boring, not to their liking, or unavailable. Several reported that family members and Mends had recommended nursing as a career option when it became apparent that their first choice was not working for them.

Nursing was viewed as a way of making a difference, as interesting, and as having multiple specialty areas. Respondents commented specifically on the variety, job security, flexibility of working hours, and availability of nursing positions. Respondents valued the richness of opportunities in nursing found in hospital, community, and research settings. Several had been impressed in their observations of nurses and nursing care when they or family members had been patients.

Reasons for choosing this school were largely its lower cost, the ease of transfer of credits, geography, and family proximity. It was apparent that respondents had considered other schools of nursing in the region before deciding to attend this school. Factors shaping the decision included the value of a baccalaureate degree rather than an associate degree, the broad perspective of nursing presented in the program, and personal preference for public rather than private education.

Experiences as Second-Degree Students

Respondents reported feeling older and more responsible than traditional students. A frequent remark…

Declining student enrollments and governmental funding compounded by market demand for more nurses have forced nurse educators to explore ways to attract different populations of students into nursing programs (Crosby, 1985; Schraeder, 1989). Second-degree students have historically been admitted to and successfully completed baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in the United States (Feldman & Jordet, 1989; Slavinsky & Diers, 1982; Smith, 1989). Diera (1987) reported a very low attrition rate for this population. In this paper, the thoughts and experiences of college graduates enrolled in a baccalaureate nursing program are reported.

Method

A survey of non-nurse college graduates enrolled in one baccalaureate program was conducted to explore the feasibility of developing an accelerated option for this type of student. After contacting seconddegree students by telephone, personal interviews were scheduled to obtain study data. Experiences in the program, thoughts and suggestions about an "ideal" baccalaureate program for college graduates, and plans for graduate study were also explored using an interview guide. Students were asked to identify reasons for choosing nursing in general and this school Ui particular. Duration of interviews was about one hour each.

Subjects

There were 27 non-nurse college graduates among the 574 students enrolled in this baccalaureate program. Prior degrees had been granted by state-supported colleges (n = 16) and private schools (n = 11). Majors were in the sciences, applied sciences, business, and letters. Using a fourpoint scale, the mean grade point average of the group for the first baccalaureate degree was 2.938 (SD = .426). The mean grade point average for work completed since admission to nursing studies was 3.499 (SD = .478). Ages were between 23 and 41 years (x = 32.24 years; SD = 5.321 years).

All 27 students were contacted by telephone; a convenience sample of 17 students (63%) was interviewed. Respondents were representative of all levels of the program; four were completing prerequisite courses, five were second-semester sophomores, four each were in the third and fourth years of the program.

Why Nursing?

While many respondents gave more than one response to the question, "Why did you choose nursing as a second degree?", the reasons given fell into four major categories: initial interest in nursing, work dissatisfaction, recommendations by others, and benefits of nursing. Seven respondents indicated that nursing was their first interest but that they had pursued other studies te please family members and others. Some found the work for which they were initially prepared to be boring, not to their liking, or unavailable. Several reported that family members and Mends had recommended nursing as a career option when it became apparent that their first choice was not working for them.

Nursing was viewed as a way of making a difference, as interesting, and as having multiple specialty areas. Respondents commented specifically on the variety, job security, flexibility of working hours, and availability of nursing positions. Respondents valued the richness of opportunities in nursing found in hospital, community, and research settings. Several had been impressed in their observations of nurses and nursing care when they or family members had been patients.

Reasons for choosing this school were largely its lower cost, the ease of transfer of credits, geography, and family proximity. It was apparent that respondents had considered other schools of nursing in the region before deciding to attend this school. Factors shaping the decision included the value of a baccalaureate degree rather than an associate degree, the broad perspective of nursing presented in the program, and personal preference for public rather than private education.

Experiences as Second-Degree Students

Respondents reported feeling older and more responsible than traditional students. A frequent remark was that the seconddegree candidate felt more mature than some traditional students. Most respondents felt that they fit very well into the program and reported that traditional students were receptive and "nice" to them. Some respondents made friends with older first-degree students and were pleased that all ages were included in activities by the younger students. Several respondents had difficulty with those generic students who were satisfied with meeting minimal academic expectations. In addition, several reported feeling more driven than traditional students in their desire to get the most from their studies in the shortest time possible.

Respondents preferred courses that involved the "hard" sciences (e.g., biochemistry and pathophysiology) over courses such as anthropology, health, wellness, and community. Comments related to the curriculum included the strong emphasis on the science foundation; the accommodating faculty; and the development of a holistic view of themselves, nursing, and clients. In identifying where the curriculum was seen as lacking, comments reflected the fact that these students were already college graduates. Respondents found some material redundant to their prior studies. Prustration was expressed that the program was not accelerated and that summers were underutilized. Introductory nursing courses were viewed by some as too basic for adult students with extensive life experiences.

"Ideal" Program

When questioned regarding the ideal length of a program for non-nurse college graduates, half of the students felt that two years in the major was an ideal length of time (range = 18 months to 3 years). While an accelerated program was desired by most respondents, part-time attendance was essential for several students due to personal responsibilities. All respondents felt that summers should be used for both required and elective courses.

If a full-time accelerated program were to be developed, respondents felt that financial aid would become very important. Because they already have a baccalaureate degree but are not graduate students, many are ineligible for financial aid.

Support for separate faculty and clinical groups for second-degree students was equivocal. Some respondents believed they would be able to move fester if all students in a group were second-degree candidates, while others valued the richness of having mixed ages and educational preparation in clinical groups. Academic advising was seen by respondents as a critical element.

Individualized review of previous college work with clear identification of needed prerequisite courses was seen as helpful. A proactive stance by advisers to maximize transfer of credits to satisfy prerequisite requirements was viewed as essential. Advising schedules should include evening hours to increase accessibility to advisers for those students who are employed during usual work hours.

Plans for Graduate Study

While five of the studente indicated that they might be interested in nature graduate study, the overwhelming response was "not yet." Most expressed the need to work, earn money, and resume social activities before considering further formal education. Since some respondents had come directly from earning their first degree, they were eager to earn a living wage rather than continuing to occupy deadend, low-paying jobs with minimal benefits. It was quite apparent that these students had little knowledge about nor enthusiasm for an advanced degree in nursing immediately following graduation from the baccalaureate program.

Discussion

Several implications for program development for this population were evident. These included the importance of speed in completing the baccalaureate degree, the need for timely advising, and the necessity of individual tailoring of the program. A very clear recommendation was that an accelerated option should be designed within the baccalaureate program to permit degree completion with all deliberate speed. The personal cost of being out of the work force coupled with the expenses of school makes this population very amenable to an accelerated option.

As recommended by Seidel and Sauter (1990), there is a need in program development to focus on nontraditional adult students, reflecting their experiences with making personal and professional decisions. If a program is accelerated, means of providing financial aid for seconddegree candidates must be developed since the pace and content of such a program would make outside employment problematic. Any financial aid packages developed should be designed in a creative manner to ensure eligibility for members of this population.

The conflict between classes scheduled during normal work hours and the need for employment was also cited as a problem. Consideration given to the needs of nontraditional students should include flexible scheduling of classes.

In summary, respondents had interesting thoughts about being second-degree nursing students as well as suggestions to fecilitate development of an ideal program designed to meet their needs. Their ideas have helped to shape the accelerated option of the baccalaureate nursing program, which was unanimously approved by our faculty. This accelerated option will permit the non-nurse college graduate to complete degree requirements in 16 months following admission to the clinical major.

Epilogue

Since the second-degree option has been made public, we have received over 700 inquiries from potential students. Ages ranged from 21 to 57 years. The largest group of inquiries (72%) came from graduates of state-supported schools. Most inquiries (89%) came from graduates of schools within this state. There were a few inquiries from graduates of schools outside the United States.

Of the data collected (N =477), firstdegree preparation of applicants was varied. The largest group of inquiries (43%, n = 207) came from graduates of programs in the applied sciences such as allied health, psychology, social work, sociology, and education. Twenty-eight percent (n = 136) of inquiries were from those with letters/arts majors such as English, foreign languages, history, art, and communication. People with business, accounting, marketing and related areas comprised another 18% (n = 85) of inquiries. There were 49 inquiries (10%) from graduates of science programs such as biology, chemistry, and mathematics. First degrees were awarded between 1965 and 1991.

The first group of students (n = 7) completed the accelerated program in December 1992. They were between 27 and 46 years of age Oc = 31.33, SO = 6.7). The major areas of prior study for this group include social work, sociology, and zoology. Degrees were earned between 1971 and 1987.

The second group of students (p = 45) completed prerequisite course work in December 1992. They ranged in age from 24 years to 51 years (x»30.7, SD=6.7). Prior areas of study included allied health, anthropology, education, foreign language, geography, and history. Their first degrees were awarded between 1973 and 1991.

The third group of second-degree students (n = 48) are currently enrolled as nursing majors.

References

  • Croeby, L. (1985). Coping with shrinking resources. Nursing Outlook, 33, 175-180.
  • Diere, D. (1987). When college grada choose nursing. American Journal of Nursing, 87, 1631-1637.
  • Feldman, H., & Jordet, C. (1989). On the fast track. Nursing and Health Care, 10, 491493.
  • Schraeder, B.D. (1989). Entry level graduate education in nursing: Master of science programe. In Perspectives in Nursing, i9871989. New York: National League for Nursing (Pub. No. 41-2199).
  • Seidel, A.H., & Sauter. D. (1990). The new non -traditional student in nursing. Journal of Nursing Education, 29, 13-19.
  • Slavinsky, A.T., & Diera, D. (1982). Nursing education for college graduates. Nursing Outlook, 30, 292-297.
  • Smith, P.L. (1989). Non-nurse college graduates in a specialty master's program: A success story. Nursing and Health Care, 10, 495-49.

10.3928/0148-4834-19940201-10

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