Online nurse training feels old-school heat

Excelsior graduates more than 2,000 nurses at the associate, bachelor's and master's level.

From its modest headquarters nestled in an Albany business park, Excelsior College has become the largest nursing school in the nation.

The school has 16,000 nursing students and, each year, graduates more than 2,000 nurses at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s level, with the majority earning associate degrees.

You won’t see thousands of cars coming and going from its campus on Washington Avenue Extension because Excelsior students take their courses online.

Ninety percent of the students live outside New York state.

While the school is accredited and has received numerous honors, Excelsior has come under fire in many states because its students do not get supervised clinical training — the hallmark of traditional nursing education.

California and Maryland will not license Excelsior’s nursing graduates, and nursing boards in 13 other states have restrictions or additional training requirements for Excelsior graduates.

“It really comes down to philosophy,” said William Stewart, assistant vice president for institutional advancement at Excelsior. “Many of the folks on these boards came through the traditional program and it’s hard for them to understand how can you become a nurse without going through that traditional apprenticeship model.”

The challenges that Excelsior faces in other states are often set off by turf battles from bricks-and-mortar schools trying to keep the online school out of their market, but Excelsior’s critics got a boost in 2005 when the National Council of State Boards of Nursing released a position paper saying education programs for registered nurses should have supervised clinical training.

Stewart said no state has produced evidence that graduates from Excelsior are disciplined at higher rates or perform any worse or better than graduates from traditional schools.

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