River Valley Community College Suspends Nursing Program

Claremont — River Valley Community College has lost its accreditation for its associate degree nursing program and administrators plan to voluntarily suspend classes for first-year nursing students.

The accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing is not required under state law, and the school still has full approval for both its associate degree and licensed practical nurse programs through the New Hampshire Board of Nursing, which is required in order to operate.

“The reality is we’re trying to make sure our students aren’t harmed in this process,” said college president Alicia Harvey-Smith, who began her job last month. “We believe accreditation is important and we value that. There are things that we need to improve for the sake of our students.”

The associate degree nursing program is two years long. Students entering their second year will continue classes in the fall as planned and graduate in the spring, Mahar said. But classes for incoming first-year students will be suspended and those students will be guaranteed spots in the fall 2014, when the program is expected to reopen.

Letters have been sent out to both first- and second-year students. There are 10 students enrolled in the first-year program, Mahar said, and 40 in the second-year program.

The one-year licensed practical nurse program is not covered by the accreditation and will not be affected.

Second-year associate degree nursing students will still be eligible to take exams for state licensure and the college will continue working to partner with other colleges to help students who want to earn a bachelor of science or a master’s degree in nursing, as the college does now.

The college first earned accreditation from Georgia-based ACEN in 1990, and this is the first time the school has lost it, said Valarie Mahar, vice president for student services and community affairs.

The college is non-compliant with two of the accreditation commission’s six standards — curriculum and outcomes.

According to the accreditation commission’s website, the college isn’t proving that the curriculum is developed by the faculty and regularly reviewed for rigor and currency. Evaluations aren’t varied or “reflect established professional and practice competencies” and they don’t measure student achievement.

The commission also found a lack of evidence that the curriculum reflects educational theory, research, interdisciplinary collaboration and best practice standards. The college also didn’t prove that student learning is used to organize the curriculum, evaluate student progress or direct learning activities, among other issues.

Within the outcomes standard, the commission found that the college’s faculty aren’t engaged in the development and maintenance of a plan for evaluation and the “expected levels of achievement” are not measurable or specific.

The commission also found, among other issues, that the college’s licensure examination pass rates are not at or above the national mean, among other things.

The NCLEX is a mandatory test that measures the skills needed to perform safely and effectively as an entry-level nurse.

In New Hampshire, the annual pass rate for all two- and four-year nursing programs in 2012 was 93.85 percent, while River Valley’s pass rate was 86.36 percent, according to the New Hampshire Board of Nursing.

In 2011, the state’s annual pass rate was 91.85 percent while River Valley’s pass rate was 87.18 percent.

The college was approved for accreditation in 2011, but officials were told by the commission that it needed to work on certain areas, including curriculum and student learning outcomes, Mahar said. The commission revisited the college in February, and the accreditation was denied effective Aug. 1.

The college can reapply for accreditation, Harvey-Smith said, and it plans to do so quickly.

In the meantime, the nursing faculty will be working to revamp the curriculum by working closely with the accrediting board. Harvey-Smith said the nursing program will conduct a thorough review, addressing each issue that the accrediting board felt was a concern.

Despite the loss of accreditation, Mahar said she’s confident that the college will regain its accreditation because it has a decades-long track record of nursing education. The college started its LPN program in 1968 and its registered nursing program in 1981.

“Our nursing faculty, we will be using an all-hands-on-deck approach as we look at focusing on our curriculum assessment in relation to ACEN standards,” Mahar said.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.