VACN President Responds to McDonnell's Online Nursing Agreement

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The president of the Virginia Association of Colleges of Nursing (VACN), Deborah Fontaine (RN, Ph.D, FAAN), is stunned Governor Bob McDonnell established a partnership with an online university to help reduce costs of nursing education, without the VACN's consent.

While Fontaine applauds the governor's effort to improve nursing education in the state, she says this may have a negative impact on schools that already have strong nursing programs.

Governor McDonnell signed a statewide admission agreement between Virginia's Community Colleges and the Western Governors University to create a faster, more affordable pathway for nurses to get a baccalaureate degree.

Governor McDonnell did not tell anyone within the VACN this would happen.  In response, Fontaine wrote a letter saying she applauds his efforts, but the commonwealth already has affordable online and traditional programs for nurses.

Since the letter was written, nursing leaders in the state met with the governor's staff, including the secretary of education.

Fontaine said, "We're trying to move everyone up to the baccalaureate level. So these schools, at least 15 schools in the state, are doing this work now, so that's why were stunned that the governor did not communicate with us."

Fontaine says she doesn't know if her letter will reverse the governor's decision, but she hopes people take away that there are options within Virginia for nurses to earn four-year degrees.

Office of Governor Bob McDonnell
Press Release

Governor Bob McDonnell today announced a new statewide guaranteed admission agreement between Virginia's Community Colleges (VCCS) and Western Governors University (WGU) that creates a faster and more affordable pathway to a baccalaureate degree for nursing students beginning this academic year.

Students who take advantage of the guaranteed admission agreement, which is unprecedented in Virginia, could earn a bachelor's degree in three years at an estimated total cost of $17,000 in tuition and fees.

"This agreement is exciting for Virginia students and families," said Governor McDonnell. "I would like to commend these two bold and innovative organizations for coming together to help make a college education more affordable and accessible for Virginia families. In this particular case, it is creating an outstanding opportunity for students to prepare themselves for good-paying nursing careers – a career field that is often in demand in every region of the state."

The guaranteed admission agreement requires students to first earn their associate's degree in nursing from one of Virginia's 23 community colleges as well as their license to practice as a Registered Nurse (RN). The students must also be working as a registered nurse to be accepted into WGU. Those students would then complete nine additional courses, for a total of 26 credit hours, through WGU on-line classes to earn their bachelor's degree in nursing.

"We are excited to be working with Western Governors University to create an affordable pathway to a baccalaureate degree," said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia's Community Colleges. "And we think this could be just the beginning of our relationship with WGU. This could be a blueprint for offering similar baccalaureate opportunities in other high-demand fields such as information technology, business, and other healthcare-related programs. Virginia's Community Colleges were created to address Virginia's unmet needs in higher education and workforce training. Higher education costs have become one of those needs and this agreement is an important part of the solution."

"WGU was created by governors to expand affordable higher education capacity within the states," said WGU President Dr. Robert W. Mendenhall. "This agreement represents the way WGU can complement state higher education systems by providing affordable, flexible pathways for working adults to earn high quality degrees with value in the workplace."

"This new pathway to a nursing degree offers a tremendous value for students and future healthcare professionals," said Secretary of Education Laura Fornash. "Making college more affordable and accessible has been a priority for this administration, and the agreement between VCCS and Western Governors University represents a significant step towards that goal."

The agreement with WGU represents the latest in more than 30 statewide guaranteed admissions agreements that the VCCS holds with public and private universities. This is the first agreement, however, created with a goal of keeping the total tuition and fees costs of a bachelor's degree to less than $20,000. All of the VCCS transfer agreements can be reviewed and compared by visiting the Virginia Education Wizard, a free one-stop website for college and career planning, at www.vawizard.org.

About Virginia's Community CollegesCreated more than 40 years ago, the VCCS is comprised of 23 community colleges located on 40 campuses across the commonwealth. Together, Virginia's Community Colleges serve more than 400,000 students a year.  For more information please visit myfuture.vccs.edu.

About Western Governors University: Western Governors University is a nonprofit, online university created by 19 U.S governors to expand access to higher education through online, competency-based degree programs. WGU has grown into a national university, serving more than 34,000 students from all 50 states and has created state-base subsidiaries in partnership with Indiana, Washington, and Texas. For more information, please visit www.wgu.edu.

Virginia Association of Colleges of Nursing
Letter from VACN President Deborah Fontaine

August 24, 2012

Dear Governor McDonnell:

The Virginia Association of Colleges of Nursing (VACN) applauds your efforts to strengthen nursing education in the state by creating another low-cost option for RNs to earn four-year degrees. Virginians deserve the best patient care possible, and your administration clearly embraces the important role professional nursing education plays in meeting these critical needs.

We write to underscore that the Commonwealth already has a wealth of affordable online and traditional programs for Virginia nurses, and to voice our concerns about unintended consequences.

The new partnership with Western Governors University (WGU) -- while admirable in its intent -- may have a negative impact on those schools in our state with already robust RN to BSN programs or schools with plans underway to expand such programs.

It is critical to understand that more than 15 Virginia nursing schools offer RN to BSN options online and in traditional formats, and those programs are also quite reasonably priced. Some require even fewer credits and are, ultimately, less expensive than what WGU offers.

In the end, what's most important is offering flexible, quality options to nurses who have associate's degrees and are interested in earning a four-year degree to boost their practice and profession. But with so many affordable options already in Virginia, the VACN is disheartened that one or more of its programs weren't bolstered, and that Virginia nursing students instead are being encouraged to more strongly consider an out-of-state online university.

We hope you will consider boosting Virginia's strong battery of nursing programs, rather than opting for an out-of-state option that has the potential to siphon our education dollars out of the Commonwealth.

Clearly, we share a recognition with you of the value of nursing education in Virginia and beyond and appreciate this opportunity to communicate our concerns with you.


Dorrie K. Fontaine, RN, PhD, FAAN
President of the Virginia Association of Colleges of Nursing
Dean and Professor
University of Virginia School of Nursing


The Virginia Association of Colleges of Nursing (VACN)
Averett University
Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing
Eastern Mennonite University
George Mason University
Hampton University
James Madison University
Jefferson College of the Health Sciences
Liberty University
Longwood University
Lynchburg College
Marymount University
Norfolk State University
Old Dominion University
Radford University
Sentara College of Health Sciences
Shenandoah University
University of Virginia
Virginia Commonwealth University

The VACN's Mission: To advance the quality of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education in Virginia in order to improve health care