PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Community College is suspending its nursing program for a year.
The decision is another blow — hopefully a short-term one — to nursing education in the region following the impending closure of Southern Vermont College. The associate's degree program will go on hiatus for first-year students in 2019 to address lingering issues and begin re-enrollment of new students in fall 2020.
"We have a 50-year history of graduating excellent practitioners and this brief pause allows us to address specific areas of focus that have been highlighted by our accrediting and licensing bodies," said college President Ellen Kennedy in a statement announcing the hiatus on Wednesday morning.
The change won't impact currently enrolled students, who will continue their education. And the college will accept bridge students or re-admission into the program. The hiatus focuses solely on first-year students entering the program.
The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing last July 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 met with the boards and Dean of Enrollment Management Christina Wynn said they had been told that the program will be restored to full accreditation. BCC is still awaiting the "official word," she said.
ACEN had reviewed the program during its March board meeting, Wynn said. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing also did a site visit last fall.
"We have unofficial news that they are going to restore us to full status. We're waiting on the official from them," Wynn said.
However, ACEN and MassBORN had both filed a number of recommendations regarding curriculum and outcomes. Wynn said the decision to temporarily suspend the program is eyed to fully implement those changes.
"A strength of our program has been our faculty," Vice President for Academic Affairs Jennifer Berne said in the statement. "BCC's nursing faculty are committed to providing excellent nurses for our community. It is out of respect for this tradition that the faculty agreed that taking a year to respond to the increasingly evidenced-based and scientifically rigorous standards from our regulators was the wisest approach to ensure the quality of our future nursing graduates."
The change in status last year was triggered by a low percentage of graduates passing 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. The college reported that number had been bolstered to 84 percent in 2018.
College officials say changes to the means testing from a rolling average to a single year affected how its graduates were portrayed. Since its classes are smaller, only one or two test failures can impact its passing rate.
Plans were made to address those issues and a number of others cited by the board. In the midst of the drop in accreditation and efforts to restore it, Director of Nursing Tochi Urbani resigned and an interim director, Christine Martin, was named. The college is still looking for a dean of nursing to head the program.
The program has been considered one of the college's gems for a long time prior to the recent trouble. The nursing program has consistently provided a pipeline for nurses for local health care providers.
"The college has been a critical partner with us in addressing the pipeline for the health-care profession in our region," said President and CEO of Berkshire Health Systems David Phelps in a prepared statement. "BCC has kept us involved during this process and we understand the reason for and support this decision."