Differences in Online Education Providers: My Student Experience

By Dr. Suzanne Minarcine, Faculty Director, APUS School of Business

I love learning, I love teaching, and I’m a better teacher when I’m also learning. Despite a terminal degree, in my mind an additional master’s made perfect sense. I’ve put that specific degree on hold for now, but I learned that not all online programs are created equal.

I began exploring online BSN and MSN programs several years ago. Through my employer, I could do the BSN at minimal cost, but it would take at least two years because of transfer credit requirements. I didn’t want to spend two years and I was enticed by the idea that a private, nonprofit university could get me further, faster. The admissions rep painted a glowing picture of a traditional university moving to mobile learning, with good instruction, superior faculty, and the ability to complete the program in two years. To complete a BSN in two years at the school where I teach, I would need to go on for two more years for the MSN or I could go straight through to the MSN in two years. Makes sense, doesn’t it? I would be saving two years. I was looking at the MSN as my backup plan and perhaps as an opportunity to teach in a field that I love.

I’ll always be a nurse, but didn’t start out with the intent to do so. I only ever wanted to be an airline pilot, but I needed a “plan B.” I couldn’t get a job as a commercial pilot in 1972, other than flight instructor, and I didn’t want to do that forever. Airlines weren’t hiring women and women weren’t allowed in military flight training programs. Nursing school offered me stability. I was fortunate to have fabulous instructors who inspired me and embraced this new direction with a passion.

After my RN, I earned a bachelor’s in general studies, perhaps with the most undergraduate credits ever. Then, I earned a master’s in health policy and administration from another university. I’ve been teaching online since 2007, but the MSN was insurance so I enrolled.

My first course was 16 weeks and my interaction with the professor was largely limited to “Good job.” I was satisfied with the quality of my work, but I wanted to know specifically what was good and where I could improve. This type of learning was brand new for me and the admissions rep had not painted an accurate picture of the technical requirements for the clinical courses. Fortunately, the university made an exception to some of these requirements and allowed me to take a graduate nursing theory course that did not require clinicals, and this was a great experience. I worked hard, the feedback was comprehensive and the instructor was engaging.

However, my final course and overall experience at that university were disappointing. When I advised the instructor that my father had entered hospice care, she said that late work would not be accepted, no matter what. I told her that while I did not anticipate problems, his condition was unstable. I provided medical records to support my request, but she suggested I drop the course. She would not work with me under any circumstances and would not even allow early work. When I contacted Student Services and explained my situation, my advisor basically said, “Oh, well.” I asked to speak with a supervisor and was told I probably needed to take the time off, anyway.

I responded that my employer, APUS, would not treat a student this way. Our students receive full support at all levels. Period. The reason is that a core part of the APUS mission is student-centricity. They also care about faculty members like me, both personally and professionally. When my father became ill, they offered tremendous support. They are passionate about, and committed to, both student success and teaching excellence. In contrast, at the other traditional nonprofit university noted previously, I experienced teaching excellence only in a single nursing theory course. I felt misled by admissions and advising, and I received no similar compassion. No one seemingly cared to assist me, either as a student or as an individual in need.

Today, while I’ve opted not to pursue the MSN, I’m a committed lifelong learner and strive to instill that same passion in my students.

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