The Lurleen B. Wallace School of Nursing was created by the legislature of the State of Alabama in 1967 to award the Bachelor of Science (BS) degree with a major in nursing. At the time of the creation of the School of Nursing, only two other baccalaureate programs existed in the state. The first graduating class of ten completed the program in 1972. To date, over 3,200 students have graduated from the traditional nursing program.
In the first 25 years of existence, the College of Nursing and Health Sciences (CNHS) offered only the traditional BSN program. Until the 1980’s, nurses with associate degrees or diploma degrees in nursing were limited to traditional programs to complete the baccalaureate degree. Given the demands of traditional programs, those wishing to pursue a BSN typically could not remain employed, thus the number of RN to BSN students was abysmal. CNHS Dean Roberta Watts recognized the need to use alternate means of delivery so that practicing RNs would have viable options for completing the BSN. In the mid-1990s she spearheaded an innovative approach to RN to BSN education. The CNHS launched a distance education RN to BSN program, the Strategic Teaching for Enhanced Professional Preparation or STEP Program. In its initial design, RNs came to campus a minimal number of days (typically three days per semester) and were provided lectures on videotapes. Facilitating the attainment of the BSN through distance education strategies was novel and cutting edge. Yet enrollment remained sparse as arranging time on campus was an almost insurmountable task for nurses working ever changing shifts. STEP enrollment remained in the single digits. In response to more widespread access to the Internet, CNHS faculty revised the STEP program for completely online delivery in 2005. The re-design to online delivery clearly met a need of practicing RNs as enrollment in the online STEP Program has increased exponentially to the current Summer 2017 enrollment of 214. At this time, over 1,700 students have graduated from the RN-BSN program.
In 1998, the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE) approved JSU’s proposal for a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program with a single major in community health nursing. This was a significant decision in Alabama, as the JSU program was the first MSN program to be approved since 1984. JSU’s master’s program was unique in that students were guided to define their “community of interest”. There have been 210 MSN degrees awarded to date.