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BCC's Nursing Program Placed on Warning Status
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
05:58PM / Friday, July 20, 2018
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The college received word in July that the program was being placed on a warning status.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The nursing program at Berkshire Community College has been placed on warning.
 
The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing cited the college on a number of issues, which college officials have characterized as "housekeeping," and dropped the state accreditation to "approval with warning."
 
College officials have now created a blueprint to address the cited issues and are hoping to be back into the board's good graces as early as January. 
 
"These are not student facing issues, it is not about our curriculum. These are procedure and policy issues that we need to address. We have begun preparing our materials to help us focus on the things we need to do. We've taken the report and broken it down into each bit we have to respond to by Sept. 30. We have every confidence we will be ahead of time and fully responding," BCC President Ellen Kennedy said. 
 
The change in status stems from a board visit in May that was triggered by a low percentage of graduates passing the NCLEX -- the National Council Licensure Examination exam for nurses to become certified. In 2017, just 74 percent of the program's graduates passed the exam on their first try. 
 
Program Director Tochi Urbani chalked part of that up to changes in the way the state judges the program based on those scores. In the past, that rate was compared to the national mean and on a three-year average. But now, Urbani said, the program is judged based on a single year and under 80 percent triggers a notice from the board.
 
The college's rates have fluctuated as low as 81 percent in the last five years and as high as 91 percent and being a smaller school means a single failure on that first exam means more percentage-wise than larger programs.
 
"The rest of them have passed. But since they look at it as the composite of those who took it and passed the very first time, the calculation comes down to this 74.1," Urbani said.
 
In 2017, 46 students graduated from the program and only 33 of them passed on the first exam. Urbani said the other 13 later passed the exam but the college is judged on those who pass the first time.
 
Nonetheless, that number is still concerning for the college. Kennedy said additional tools such as a number of practice exams have been added to the program to help better prepare students to take it.
 
While those results triggered the board's May visit, that visit also led the college to get cited on a number of other issues, which was detailed in a report to the college in July.
 
The number of citations were shocking at first, but Kennedy said once officials were able to dig into the details of the report, none of the findings were out of the college's ability to fix. Most of the findings require a revamping of the program's policies and handbook.
 
"When we broke the report down into what we actually have to do, we have every confidence that will successfully address them," she said.
 
One example was that the college's policies state that student records would be kept for two years. But the board found records dating back further than that. Urbani said simply changing the wording in the policy to "at least" will solve that issue.
 
Another issue is related to language in contracts with the college's clinical partners that Urbani said has been added to the contracts. Others include meeting minutes not being detailed enough and specific policies for evaluation and job descriptions not meeting certain criteria.
 
On Thursday, the college sent emails to more than 200 students, those currently enrolled, recently graduated but have yet to take the exam, and those in the licensed practical nursing program. The emails are being followed up with letters. The college is also preparing a FAQ, or frequently asked questions, sheet as well.
 
That FAQ includes information such as that the approval with a warning means that the college needs to meet a deadline and that it is still accredited, that there is nothing in the curricula or calendar that requires changing, that there will be no changes to the program for students enrolling this fall, and outlining the issues that led the college to get to this point.
 
The issue is particularly concerning for the college because the nursing program is one of its most important offerings. It is in high demand and enrollment is capped. So far, one student accepted into the program has inquired about a deferral to see how the accreditation plays out. 
 
Ubani said the state has scheduled another visit to the college on Oct. 23. The state has set deadlines and will be reviewing the 2018 report in January. But there is no specific timeline on when the college can get back to the approved status.
 
"If we meet those deadlines, no problem," Urbani said.
 
In an effort to be transparent, the college has now placed related documents on its website. 
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