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Community college nursing degrees pose risk to students

Last week, I wrote about the Michigan State Legislature’s plan to increase the number of nurses in the state. It involves allowing four-year community college nursing degrees. This strategy is questionable for several reasons, but here’s something else to consider.

Pueblo Community College has a four-year nursing program, which it debuted two years ago. Prior to that, PCC offered a two-year RN program that awarded students an Associate Degree in Nursing. Last week, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) informed PCC that it would not accredit the school’s BSN program.

So, that’s kind of like a bomb going off.

Failing the accreditation process has some serious negative consequences for PCC’s currently enrolled nursing students. First, they cannot receive the industry accreditation on their diplomas that they’ve been working toward. The students will graduate with a BSN from an unaccredited community college nursing program. Second, many employers will not even consider hiring nurses who have not graduated from an accredited nursing program. Third, PCC’s students could transfer to an accredited program, but accredited nursing programs will not accept credits from non-accredited ones. The students will have to start all over.

The ten students seeking four year community college nursing degrees already work as nurses. They wanted to upgrade their two-year degrees to four-year degrees. Having a BSN would enable these nurses to pursue more lucrative nursing specialties. And that’s not going to happen for them. At least not right now.

The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accredits only two-year nursing programs. It currently accredits PCC’s Associate Degree Nursing program, and PCC’s two-year program accreditation remains unaffected.

Accreditation failure possible for community college nursing degrees

CCNE rejected PCC’s accreditation bid due to a problem with the documentation PCC submitted for its program. PCC intends to reapply for CCNE accreditation again next year, but that will not help the affected students. Even if PCC’s program corrects the deficiencies CCNE found, the current students cannot graduate from an accredited BSN program without repeating all the coursework they’ve already completed once. And they can only repeat those courses after CCNE accredits PCC’s BSN program.

Accreditation is a multi-year process. Not getting accredited affects the college – sure – but it has a much more acute and painful impact on the students. While PCC can try again next year (hopefully their paperwork is in order), the students can do nothing except start over. PCC’s lack of accreditation taints every BSN credit those students earned. And the only way to undo that is to have the students redo a full year (or more) of classes.
Industry accreditation has a long-term impact, and until a four year community college nursing program receives accreditation, the students bear all the risk.

Photo Credit: COD Newsroom, via Flickr