Wednesday February 6, 2013

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Little was gained in Southern Vermont College’s efforts to maintain accreditation of its nursing programs at a hearing in Atlanta last week.

A peer review group reiterated the recommendation given by a visiting team from National League of Nursing Accrediting Commission last fall for the Commission not to re-accredit SVC’s associate’s degree for nursing (ADN) and bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) programs. Both programs have been on probation from the NLNAC the past two years and now face the possibility of losing accreditation unless the Commission goes against the recommendation from those who visited the liberal arts campus in the fall.

"The peer reviewers basically reiterated what was in the site visitors’ report," SVC President Karen Gross said Monday.

The 15-member Commission is expected to meet in early March to decide whether accreditation should be stripped from the programs. In its report, the visiting team raised concerns regarding the new ADN curriculum implemented last fall and concerns measuring the outcomes of the new curriculum. The report also raised issue with the qualifications of instructors in the BSN program, among other concerns.

Gross, who attended the Jan. 29 hearing along with the nursing department chairwoman and legal counsel, said the proceeding was a disappointment as the college was not given the opportunity to make its argument for re-accreditation prior to the peer review group’s decision.

"We had thought after reading the NLNAC rules that we would have an opportunity to speak before they concluded their deliberations. By the way, that’s what would normally happen if you were accorded common law due process," Gross said. "But in their process, you don’t speak until after the deliberations are concluded."

Nobody able to comment on the proceeding or re-accreditation process from the Atlanta-based NLNAC could be reached Tuesday.

When allowed the opportunity to speak after the peer review team deliberated Gross read a five-minute prepared statement. Gross declined Monday to talk specifically about the college’s argument for re-accreditation prior to sharing the contents of the statement with the college faculty and students later this week.

The hope, Gross said, is the peer review team will share the college’s arguments with the Commission prior to its meeting in March, but Gross said she will also be in contact with the Commission.

"We will share with the Commission, to the extent they’re willing to accept them, our views before they deliberate in March," Gross said. "I believe in our nursing program. I believe in its quality, and I believe in the remarkable graduates from the program, and I will fight with every breath I have to ensure that our whole community ... is able to benefit from the nurses that we graduate."

While the hearing last week did not go as hoped, Gross said there were some positives she took away from it.

"I think there was a value in their seeing us there in person and I think there was a value for us in seeing how they viewed the situation and how they handled the site visitor’s report, and how they addressed, or not, our written response to the site visitor’s report," Gross said.

If the Commission does not re-accredit SVC, the college will have an opportunity to appeal that decision to another panel. If the appeal were to fail, the final opportunity the college would have for its nursing programs to retain accreditation would be through court action. If it came to that, Gross said the college would have the option to sue for applicable rights and remedies.

"If a decision was made against the college with respect to nursing accreditation and that decision was not fairly reached, then we have been damaged by what happened and I will not stay silent as this college is unfairly damaged," Gross said. "We are hopeful that we will not have to resort to litigating our right to be accredited in a court, but of course we will preserve and protect every legal right we have."

SVC’s nursing programs remain accredited by the Vermont State Board of Nursing, which is necessary for students in the program to take the national exam required to become a licensed nurse. However, a degree from a program not accredited by the NLNAC would prevent graduates from finding employment from any government agency and many private organizations.

The college has already begun to feel an impact from the potential loss of accreditation as more students than average transferred following the fall semester.

"It’s fair to say that we have lost some students because of the accreditation issues. My hope is that when they learn about our next steps with respect to accreditation that the students who are currently here will be sufficiently comforted (so) that they will not see any need to exit the program," Gross said.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi