Program Profile: American Sentinel University

Online educational program targets working professionals

Headquartered in Aurora, CO, American Sentinel University focuses on the education of working professionals in an online environment. The school offers RN to BSN, RN to BSN/MSN, MSN, and DNP degrees to students from all areas.

Founded in 2006, American Sentinel was the result of a merger between three schools: the American Graduate School of Management (Denver, CO), Sentinel University (Denver) and the American College of Computer and Information Sciences (Birmingham, AL). Under the guidance of co-founder and CEO Dr. Richard Oliver, American Sentinel has quickly built a curriculum offering 12 different degrees—from bachelor’s to doctoral—across four disciplines, including nursing/healthcare.

Elaine Foster, PhD, MSN, RN, has been dean of Nursing and Healthcare Programs since January, 2017. Prior to becoming dean, she was an Associate Dean at the university. . “Dr. Oliver had a vision to make education more accessible to working professionals,” she explained. “His wife is a nurse, and he wanted to make education available to people who weren’t able to quit their jobs in order to go back to school.”

Thus, he developed the RN/BSN program, quickly followed by the MSN program. Lastly, the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) program was developed in 2012 with an executive track. The educator track would soon follow, and growth continued with the addition of professional and informatics tracks.

“Within our master’s programs, we have five specializations plus two brand-new nurse practitioner tracks,” said Dr. Foster.
Today, over 2,500 students are enrolled in American Sentinel—and they couldn’t be happier about it. In fact, a 2016 Student Satisfaction Survey indicated 96 percent were pleased or very pleased with the American Sentinel experience. The institution boasts over 6,000 alumni worldwide, and of the 180-plus faculty and adjunct faculty members, over 70 percent hold doctorate degrees.

Best of all, the continued growth of the university occurs organically. “I’m very proud that I can say our most successful means of recruiting is word of mouth,” said Dr. Foster.

With over 100 partner organizations, American Sentinel has access to countless working professionals to whom they can offer an online learning experience on their own schedules and at an affordable rate. School representatives can go to partnered facilities and offer tuition discounts and other benefits.

But for Dr. Foster, nothing tops the feedback she receives from students. “When we’re sitting at our doctoral residencies, and we ask students ‘Why are you here?’… I would say approximately 50 percent of them respond that a friend, family member, or colleague attended American Sentinel and highly recommended the program,” she said. “We have very engaged faculty, administration, and awesome support services.

“To me, that’s better than any ad we could put on TV or on a billboard. It’s reinforcing the work we want to do.”

Of course, Dr. Foster recognized the fierce competition that exists in the online educational marketplace. Perhaps her greatest challenge in keeping American Sentinel’s nursing program ahead of the others; making sure the program remains on the cutting edge of the profession.
“There are tons of us out there,” she acknowledged. “But we’re very innovative, we’re not status quo. We’ll launch a program, then expand it into other areas while learning from what went well and what didn’t. We don’t stand still for a moment.”

For the immediate future, Dr. Foster says her emphasis is searching for additional programs to fit within the American Sentinel profile. While many online universities attempt to expand in myriad directions in an effort to “expand the footprint”, American Sentinel remains laser-focused on the healthcare arena.

“What fits into our mission? We’re not going to just start up an engineering program, or a full business curriculum. That’s not what we do—we focus on healthcare, and we do it well. We want to determine the skills people will need in the workplace within the next 5-10 years, and bring creative, applicable knowledge to nurses within our program.”

Perhaps that focus is what leads to the high rates of student satisfaction, the impressive faculty retention, and the organic means of student recruitment. At American Sentinel, faculty and administrators don’t have to worry about seeing their roles changed, diminished, or downsized; they can look forward to embracing new challenges in the areas of their expertise.

“I challenge my faculty to think about what is out there that we don’t know about yet,” Dr. Foster concluded. “Some of these things don’t even have a name yet, but they’re going to be critical in the coming years.”

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