Sumner College an Early Adopter of Online Learning

Sumner College


Sumner College an Early Adopter of Online Learning

Educating Through COVID-19, To Send Nurses to The Frontline

By Wendy Larimer

The question of whether schools will be reopening for in-person learning is at the forefront of every student’s mind. As it becomes more apparent that COVID-19 is in no rush to leave, the difficult decision to keep schools closed as a matter of safety is becoming a more common solution. Schools that have been early adopters of online learning are ahead of the curve, and in the case of Sumner College in Portland, leading the way for how a college can embrace change and find success.

Sumner College’s sole focus is healthcare, offering certificates and degrees for Medical Assistants, Practical Nurses and Registered Nurses. Joanna Russell, President of the college, said the short turnaround from start to graduation makes the college and its courses appealing to non-traditional and traditional students.  Becoming a Medical Assistant can be achieved in 7 and a half months, an LPN in 13 months, and an RN takes just two years. That combined with a 100 percent retention in the RN program has made Sumner an attractive option for those already in or wanting to be in the medical field.

Since 1974 when Sumner opened its doors, the college has been delivering on-campus learning, with the exception of the new RN to BSN degree program that launched in June. That program is designed to be fully online to accommodate the full-time RN’s who want to keep working, but also expand their skills and earning potential. No one saw that the entry into online learning would become a tremendous benefit to the school just a few months later.

When COVID-19 hit in March and in-class learning was shut down, Sumner found itself in an ideal position to quickly transition. With the platform for online delivery already in place, and many part-time nurses teaching in the program, it took the college only one week to transition all classes to from the traditional on-campus format to on online platform.

The school moved to a hybrid model where all the required classes were still taught by nursing faculty and held via Zoom conferencing. With classes moved online, there was ample classroom space to shift in-person labs from a student ratio of 12 to 1, to 3 to 1, to allow for safer distancing and less exposure. Simulation is now part of the curriculum where students are assigned a patient, they check symptoms, diagnose the patient, and create a care plan, all via video and under the watchful eye of an instructor. The students work on each patient for 3 to 4 hours. The virtual simulation helps fill the void for some in-person clinical experience which is not always readily available as many medical centers have limited who can be on-site.

Outside of the curriculum, Sumner also proved ready to go online as they already provide laptops with cameras to incoming students as part of their admissions. “We were already equipping students with the tools they needed to be successful with online learning,” Russell said.

Beyond infrastructure, Sumner is also in a prime position to be a leader in medical training. Nurses have become essential workers and demand for them has skyrocketed. With immediate jobs to fill and graduates average starting salaries of $50,000 for an LPN and close to $70,000 for RN, students are recognizing a viable career choice and turning to Sumner.

Russell says she’s never seen anything like the rush of students who have applied to Sumner over the past few months. “We are in a moment in time where individuals who want to get into the medical field feel this is my time to do it,” she said.

While Sumner has been reaping the benefits of its ability to quickly adapt to a changing way of learning, other institutions have not been as fortunate. Earlier this year Concordia University shut its doors and later Pioneer Pacific also found itself unable to accommodate its students. Recognizing college shutdowns left some nursing students stranded, Sumner College stepped in to assist those who were displaced with transfers and scholarships so students could complete their education at Sumner.

A transfer program was approved whereby students in good standing can transfer more than 25 percent of their coursework to Sumner as a “block transfer.” Any remaining courses can be completed at Sumner allowing the student to graduate as planned.  “The program has worked well. We’ve been able to transfer over many students who start classes with us August 17,” Russell said.

Sumner also created a scholarship initiative, offering $5,000 to students who were accepted or enrolled into the nursing program at Concordia. The scholarship can be applied to any of Sumner’s nursing programs and all previous coursework is transferable so students don’t have to pay to repeat classes. There is $250,000 available in the scholarship program.

The dual benefit of online learning in a high demand field, is creating a boom for Sumner and has proved to Russell that online is the direction to head. She said the school is attracting newcomers who couldn’t relocate to attend the campus classes, as well as those already working in the field who want to expand their education and earning potential, but keep a balance of work, school and home.

“Navigating the transition from on campus to online was a challenge, but it has been very, very successful. The students were able to adapt to the new online environment quickly, without sacrificing the quality of education.  The hybrid model of delivering lecture content online and skills labs on campus as worked well for us. Most of our students are being placed a soon as they graduate and pass the NCLEX or sit for the AAMA certification” Russell said.

Sumner College has a history of helping students achieve their dreams and preparing them for success for over 45 years in Oregon. For more information about Sumner College visit