Vandy grad here. I'll say this, I attended the local, cheapest BSN program and found my education to be exhausting, overwhelming at times and very rigid.
Vanderbilt was a "breath of fresh air" for me. I was impressed and they constantly worked with me and others to help us succeed, at times bringing in lecturers who were tops in their fields. As well, the guidance and assistance in clinical preceptorships was remarkable. For example, I remember some of my peers who wanted to specialize, somewhat heavily, in transplant, hematology, oncology, cardiology, etc. Vanderbilt Hospital, clinics offers these specialties and our professors went overboard to help guide us in that direction.
Now realistically, did Vanderbilt offer anything that several state schools around me not offer? Mostly, no. I have precepted several students from these state schools. They have the same texts, same instruction outlines, same PDAs with software, information sharing, and clinical check-offs that I had. The graduation rates, ANCC and AANP pass rates, I would guess hire rates are all very similar. What Vanderbilt did offer was well regarded faculty, support and name recognition. What do I mean by name recognition?
I was interviewed and subsequently hired by a team of Vanderbilt ED faculty members. I had heard that about 20 folks submitted applications, weeded down to four. One dropped out, leaving three. We all had similar credentials, FNP vs ANP, etc. We all were practicing NPs, all part-time, in either Urgent Care or fast track ED. So, besides the interviews, what was the difference? I graduated from VU. Was this the only difference? Of course not. But I believe my alma mater helped.
Let's look at another factor. I've been a nurse 20 years. All along my career, I've heard a running joke about Vandy grads, specifically, the direct entry folks, not being up to snuff. I met several in grad school. They have a challenge. I read a few scholarly articles comparing DE vs RN's after grad school. You'd be surprised of the findings, I was, as well as many of the students in the DE program. Vandy consumes them, they are immersed and crammed thru the Trifecta BSN, then another Trifecta MSN. I'm surprised many of them don't crack under the pressure. I believe this support, faculty ratio, and drive to be the best, makes the difference at some private (and even public) graduate schools. It all starts with a dynamic Dean and motivated faculty. Compare web sites, notice anything???
Yes, it costs a little more, but this is a pretty important part of your life. How much is that worth?
Kentucky, you have a hard decision. I am looking at DNP programs and UK impresses me. I would imagine it would impress anyone, considering the latest USNews ratings. A couple of the faculty at Vandy attended UK and they have great things to say about the school. Good luck!