Thank you all for the responses!
To be clear, I consider my program to be "de-facto" distance ed. It is not described as such, and it is located within a brick-and-mortar state university. However, I am learning that ALL of the classes are on-line only. Those classes classes with an "lab" actually only meet once, with the "lab" assignments (this is physical assessment) actually completed by the student sending a video of an assessment to the course instructors. Several students are from out of state, a few from elsewhere in the state, and the majority from the same city as the program. Also, as I originally mentioned, students are responsible for setting up their own preceptorships. None of this became apparent until orientation.
Frankly, since so many of us students are residing in the same city, I don't see any legitimate reason why the school isn't more involved in the preceptorship portion. The NP program has been around for several years, and the BSN program for many, so the school has plenty of contacts in the city for clinical sites. With there being so many students in the grad program, I'm coming to the conclusion that it is all about getting as many (paying) warm bodies into the program as possible.
David: thank you for the response. I've been researching the PA profession for about a year now, and your posts (here, the PA forum, and SDN) have been instrumental in helping me to learn about your profession. I'm coming to the conclusion that the NP educational/credentialling model leaves a lot to be desired. My concern regarding this current topic is a case in point; I am very uncomfortable in leaving my clinical preparation to such a hit-and-miss situation.
To be perfectly honest, I really prefer the PA educational model. I thought I had talked myself out of trying the PA route. I had three main reasons:
1) Cost: the PA school I would apply to is about 5x the cost of the NP program. Especially tough to rationalize since the income and day-to-day practice of the two professions seem pretty close.
2) Work: Not able to in PA school (*maybe* some per diem during didactic, but no way during clinical rotations). Absolutely doable in NP school.
3) Admittance: Tougher for PA school, need some shadowing with a PA, and LORs are tough because my best sources would be the higher-ups in both my nursing school and at my job. Admittance is guaranteed for the NP program.
I am conflicted at this point. I am very uneasy about my NP program, and I frankly wanted to try for PA all along. Taking on an additional 100k in loans (at least) on top of the 44k I have from my two undergrad degrees is a daunting thought (to put it mildly). However, my CASPA is complete (minus narrative and LORs), I have completed all of the PA school pre-reqs, and I am working on some prospects for shadowing, so I guess it's becoming more and more clear which way I'm leaning.
I'm glad I'm taking these two grad classes (that's a whole 'nother rant) and that I attended the orientation before actually being in the program, I feel that I will be making an informed decision because of it.
Thanks again for everybodies responses!