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Western Wyoming Community College lost its national nursing accreditation, which will affect the careers of 11 students who graduated in May.
Administrators at the Rock Springs school thought they were on track for accreditation renewal until March, when the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission said they lost it because not all the faculty had master’s degrees, WWCC President Karla Leach told the Star-Tribune.
Previously, the national accreditation group had not enforced the provision that 100 percent of the faculty have at least master’s degrees, Leach said.
The March accreditation denial came as a surprise, Leach said.
“They’re getting very close,” Leach said of the nursing teachers who are completing master’s degrees. “We will be at 100 percent [in summer 2013]. We just didn’t have 100 percent. NLNAC had never enforced that.”
Effects on students
National accreditation for an English major may not be a big deal.
But if you want to become a registered nurse, graduation from an unaccredited school can limit career and educational opportunities.
The class of 2012’s nursing students will not be able to work at Veterans Administration hospitals. Other hospitals may also deny employment, depending on hiring policies, Leach said.
Wyoming hospitals will still hire them as nurses, since the Wyoming Board of Nursing continues to accredit the program.
But 2012 graduates who want to advance their education from an associate degree to a bachelor’s of nursing may be in trouble.
The University of Utah will not accept students from unaccredited associate’s programs. Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, requires students from unaccredited programs to take an additional exam or additional general education courses.
The University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus’ website says graduation from an accredited program is one of the requirements for admissions; however, if students graduate from an unaccredited school, they will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The University of Wyoming will accept WWCC graduates.
“Because the program at Western Wyoming has Wyoming State Board of Nursing approval, those graduates are eligible for the UW bachelor’s of nursing program,” UW spokesman Chad Baldwin said. “There are no obstacles because of the accreditation [loss] in Rock Springs.”
UW has accepted at least one student from the class of 2012, Rachelle Stratton.
Stratton will work at a surgical center in Rock Springs while pursuing her bachelor’s of nursing degree online through UW. She preferred to study at UW instead of the University of Utah because the tuition is cheaper.
“My whole feeling on it is, I felt hurt by it,” she said. “I’m not mad. I understand things happen. It’s very hurtful. I know some of my classmates have said they want to sue. They need to pay to go to the University of Wyoming to get our bachelor’s; they need to repay our [WWCC] tuition.”
Stratton doesn’t seek retribution.
Her long-term goal is to become a nurse practitioner, likely continuing to receive degrees through UW.
“That is my dream, to help with rural nursing, especially with children in Wyoming,” she said.
The WWCC program sufficiently prepared her to pass the National Council of State Boards of Nursing exam, she said.
Stratton said she didn’t learn about the loss of accreditation until the school sent her a letter in July — two months after graduation.
Leach said that in March, when the program lost accreditation, administrators told students there was a problem.
“We were under the impression under the Nation League of Nursing if we appealed the decision, there would be a stay of that decision,” Leach said, “meaning they would hold off on that decision until all of this had been investigated and settled.”
But WWCC administrators learned that the loss of accreditation remained in place, regardless of appeal.
They dropped the appeal because “100 percent is pretty easy to measure,” she said, and 100 percent of WWCC nursing teachers did not have advanced degrees. “It’s just it’s not how they had done it in the past.”
“It’s extremely difficult in rural Wyoming to get master’s degrees,” Leach said.
New teachers get five years to earn them, she said. Rock Springs attorney Clark Stith, a former school trustee, said WWCC is serious about that.
He remembers the trustees voting to dismiss a nursing teacher who hadn’t earned a master’s in five years.
Representatives from National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission didn’t return a call from the Star-Tribune.
Reaccreditation by the national organization occurs each decade. In 2009, the national commission sent representatives to visit WWCC, which is routine in reaccreditation. The representatives told WWCC administrators the faculty’s education needed improvement.
“We talked to them about our program we were working on and they said, ‘That sounds good,’” Leach said.
In 2011, WWCC administrators submitted an update.
“We thought they had accepted our progress, but in 2012 we received their final decision that they had not accepted it,” she said.
When 100 percent of the faculty has master’s degrees, it’ll take about a year to get accreditation back, Leach said.
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