School of Nursing ranks in top 15 online master’s programs, reflects on progress

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Sandra Bellini, director of the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner track, spoke about the program’s recent placement on the US World & News’ top online neonatal nurse practitioner master’s programs list, tied at No. 14. 

Bellini said they rose through the ranks quickly, placing at No. 82 last year. She said they were still proud of last year’s ranking as well because of the sheer volume of programs that could place on the list. 

Professor Sandra Bellini, director of the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner track. Photo courtesy of UConn School of Nursing.

“We moved up in the rankings. Last year, I believe we were 82. Again, there are thousands — literally thousands — of online master’s degree programs in nursing,” Bellini said. “The US World & News report only ranks the 200, I think, to begin with. To rank at all for US World & News report is a big deal.” 

Bellini said part of their rise came from existing for longer and developing name recognition. She said part of the US World & News list is program reputation, which she said will grow as the program exists and produces more graduates. 

“I think some of that may have happened because this was our fifth year online and part of the measurements that have to do with program reputation obviously will grow over time,” Bellini said. “If you are a new program in the marketplace, then when they survey administrators at peer and aspirant institutions to ask about this particular program, ‘Have you heard of this? What kind of reputation does this have in the academic world?’ You’re not going to have as much of an impact or recognizable presence in that marketplace in your first couple of years online.” 

Bellini also said part of their track’s strength comes from its robust program. She feels their group of 32 students is a good size for active participation without compromising on quality. 

“We have a very large, very robust program, but it’s also small enough to where we feel like we have the resources to support it in a kind of fashion that makes you successful, and we don’t want to compromise that,” Bellini said. 

Bellini said much of the program’s success came from their work with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. She said the faculty were worried about making the switch to online teaching, but she cited the CETL as a major resource for their success. 

“Nobody wanted to do it. We were, in fact, the first group of faculty who went to them and said, ‘we want to put our program online,’ and they were utterly fantastic to work with,” Bellini said. “Every single course in the program was co-designed between one of the neonatal faculty and one of the e-campus folks whose degrees are in … online instructional design.” 

Bellini spoke about some of the potential benefits of online teaching as well. In particular, she cited the numerous ways to measure student understanding of the material as one of the major benefits of teaching online. 

The reason that this program is successful is because of the faculty expertise and their collective risk-taking ability. – Prof. Bellini

“In an online program, there’s a lot more mechanisms of student evaluation that are built into the course. There’s a lot more quizzes, there’s more group work, there’s a lot more deliverables on the part of the student,” Bellini said. “Each of them is weighted not very highly because there’s so many of them, but because there’s so many of them, it really helps both the student and the faculty to understand.” 

Bellini also offered advice to faculty who are less experienced with online teaching, saying that following the advice of experts was necessary. She said part of teaching online means extending out of one’s comfort zone, so trust in others was necessary. 

“My best advice would be to follow their lead, if they tell you to do something and it feels uncomfortable to you, trust them, have a little faith, take a risk and go for it,” Bellini said. “You can always change it if it doesn’t work, but in our experience, they completely know what they’re talking about and are a tremendous resource to faculty.” 

Finally, she said the risks the program took were instrumental in its success. She said strong faculty and students have led the program to be one of the largest in the nation. 

“The reason that this program is successful is because of the faculty expertise and their collective risk-taking ability. We had no idea what we were doing to do this online,” Bellini said. “We entered a very competitive environment five years ago, and in five years’ time, we went from a program that was fighting to stay open to one of the top five largest in the United States, and that’s a function and a result of really strong faculty and also really strong students.” 

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