The first time Melissa Neck (BSN ’24) came to UVA in 1998 she was a teenager. Cell phones only made calls. Social media didn’t exist.

growth in RN to BSN enrollment since 2018

She hadn’t begun her nursing career—or any career—let alone started a family.

But when she walks the Lawn this spring for the second time, Neck will earn a bachelor’s degree through UVA’s popular RN to BSN program, which enables working nurses a two-year, part-time path to a bachelor’s through once-a-month in-person class and online learning. A labor and delivery nurse for Riverside Health System in Newport News, Va., the program whet Neck’s appetite for more. She has plans to become a nurse practitioner.

Melissa Neck

“Dropping [my son] off at his campus brought back all those memories. I thought, ‘OK, it’s time for me to go back.’”

RN to BSN student Melissa Neck (BSN ’24), a Riverside Medical Center labor and delivery nurse

Despite steep national declines for similar programs (the American Association for Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported a nearly 17% decline in RN to BSN student enrollments in 2022-23, the fourth year in a row and the first time since 2012 that national enrollment in these programs dropped under 100,000 students), UVA’s RN to BSN program is growing. A decade ago, UVA had 51 RN to BSN students enrolled; this academic year, there are 90 enrolled across three sites. Applications for fall 2024 entry rose nearly 24% over just one year ago.

Neck considered nursing while at UVA the first time but ultimately majored in psychology. A few years later, she earned an associate’s degree in nursing at a local community college, took the NCLEX, and became a registered nurse. That was enough school, she said—until her own son went off to college in 2021.

“Dropping him off at his campus brought back all those memories,” Neck said. “I thought, ‘OK, it’s time for me to go back.’”

There are a host of upsides to earning a BSN—nurses with BSNs usually earn more, enjoy more professional mobility, and are well-positioned to continue their schooling. Increasingly, hospitals also require that nurses without them earn bachelor’s degree to advance, according to Malinda Whitlow (BSN ’07, MSN ’11, DNP ’13), who is both the RN to BSN program’s director, one of the program’s core faculty members, and a graduate of the program.

“We have nurses who’ve been working for five years, or 20 years, and they’re coming back,” Whitlow said. “Often, if you want to go into leadership roles, you have to go back to school.”

RN to BSN program application growth (fall ’24 over fall ’23)

And it isn’t just about checking a box or getting a credential. The Institute of Medicine’s 2010 Future of Nursing Report recommended an “80 by 20” approach (that 80 percent of the nation’s RNs have a BSN by the year 2020; in 2022, nearly 72 percent of American nurses have a BSN, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing) citing studies that showed that nurses with bachelor’s degrees give better care, strengthen patient outcomes, and enjoy better professional growth.

“Our program isn’t for a student who just wants to play the game for the degree,” said Kim Dieber, who recruits RN to BSN students to the program. “We’re going to help them grow.”

Kim Dieber, UVA School of Nursing

“Our program isn’t for a student who just wants to play the game for the degree. We’re going to help them grow.”

Kim Dieber, RN to BSN program recruiter

RN to BSN student Mark Benedict (BSN ’24), a neurological ICU nurse at UVA Health, said practicing nurses are often tough by design; working in intense settings like trauma ICUs and emergency rooms requires it. But Benedict said the program not only expanded his view of the profession, it made him a better clinician.

“I wanted to have an experience that would build my understanding of what nursing is as a profession,” Benedict said. “I’ve known for a long time that it isn’t just a clinical practice. There’s a cerebral part of it, even a spiritual part of what we’re doing.”

Many students don’t stop after walking the Lawn, going on to earn additional degrees, including Benedict, who will start a graduate program at Johns Hopkins University this fall. He takes the long view.

“Getting your bachelor’s helps you articulate what you want from the system,” Benedict said. “It’s not just going to impact you and your peers; it’s going to impact your children.”


Learn about the RN to BSN program.