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South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) in Olympia was notified Friday that it has been denied national reaccreditation for its nursing program, according to college spokeswoman Kellie Purce Braseth.

“We will appeal the decision,” she said. “During the appeal process the nursing program will maintain its current (National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission) accreditation status.”

The news was disappointing, but not necessarily unexpected: The accreditation organization — which recently changed its name to the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing — evaluated the program last spring “and the hard truth is the visit did not go well,” Purce Braseth said.

“In recent years, the college’s nursing program has struggled to meet all the new standards for nursing education,” Purce Braseth said.

As a result, the college has opted to refund application fees and not admit a new cohort of students this fall, she said.

In addition, the college plans to take the next school year to completely redesign the two-year program, Purce Braseth said.

The program has state Department of Health’s Nursing Commission approval.

“We’ve had them on conditional approval for two years,” said Mindy Schaffner, nursing-education adviser with the Department of Health. “They have to have that approval to even operate.

Accreditation is a professional credential, and we say state approvals are minimal benchmarks for operating.”

There are 41 nursing programs in the state, and 10 of them are not nationally accredited, Schaffner said. Of those, four are in the process of trying to obtain that stamp of approval because it makes their graduates more likely to be hired, she said.

“The (Veterans Affairs) wants to see that,” she said. “They are a federal program, and they want to see their nurses graduate from an accredited program.”

SPSCC nursing program’s woes began in 2010, when the accreditation commission outlined six standards that the college was failing to meet.

“The six standards not met include use of a systematic evaluation plan for program improvement, adequate number of full-time faculty and evidence of faculty involvement in designing, implementing and evaluating the curriculum,” wrote Usrah Claar-Rice, nursing-education adviser for the Department of Health, in a Nov. 29, 2010 letter to SPSCC. “(Nursing Program Approval Program) also found deficiencies regarding release time for the director, evidence of the authority of the director in administering the program, and the authority of the director in terms of hiring faculty.”

Officials also had concerns that SPSCC’s graduate pass rates on the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses — know as the NCLEX-RN — were too low, Schaffner said.

In 2006, 85 percent of graduates passed the exam. However, between 2008 and 2010 the passage rates dipped into the mid-70s.

Schaffner said SPSCC’s NCLEX-RN pass rates have improved greatly — it was about 90 percent in 2011 and 93 percent in 2012.

But according to a 2012 site survey obtained by The Olympian through a public-records request, the state still had issues with the program, including:

Lack of student participation in committees in the determination of program policies and procedures, curriculum planning and evaluation.

Lack of a sufficient number of professionally and academically qualified faculty needed for the program. There were two full-time nursing faculty positions vacant at time of the site visit.

Purce Braseth described potential loss of accreditation as “a symptom” of a much larger issue: a program that hasn’t kept up with the industry needs — especially with technology.

South Puget Sound Community College offers three degrees in nursing: the Associate Degree in Nursing, which prepares graduates to become registered nurses; a Certificate in Practical Nursing; and a Nursing Assistant Certificate.

The Associate Degree in Nursing is the only program that is losing its national accreditation because it is the only one that was covered by it.

Last fall, SPSCC signed an agreement that allows students graduating from the registered-nursing program a seamless transition into the bachelor of science in nursing program at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.

The agreement allows SPSCC students to apply for Saint Martin’s Registered Nurse-to-Bachelor of Science in Nursing (known as the RN-to-BSN) program.

“My understanding is that the accreditation will have no impact,” Purce Braseth said.