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No Fall Class As BCC Nursing Program Cites Accreditor Concerns

The Berkshire Community College logo

Berkshire Community College announced today that its nursing program will not accept a new class this fall.

BCC – headquartered in Pittsfield – will celebrate 50 years of educating nurses in June. In recent years, enrollment for the program has averaged about 56 students a year.

“And they become our associate degree of nursing students," said Christina Wynn. "So they participate in nursing courses, clinicals, and generally, after two years, that class goes on to receive their associate degree and can go on to become a registered nurse.”

Wynn is the dean of enrollment management at BCC. Wednesday, she was explaining the decision not to accept any students into the nursing program this fall.

“In the past year, we have received visited and consultation from our accreditors and the Massachusetts Board of Registered Nurses and they had indicated that there were some areas within our program that they wanted us to turn our attention to,” Wynn told WAMC.

The college receives its accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education, and its nursing program specifically from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health released its findings on the BCC Nursing Program to WAMC Wednesday. They included “absence of a fully implemented systematic evaluation plan for quality improvement; failure to maintain records in accordance with Board regulations; and absence of clear, specific nondiscriminatory criteria for several of the Board required policies.”

The program was given an “approved with warning” status. By August 31st, BCC must offer the Board of Registration in Nursing a “data driven, faculty-operated systematic evaluation plan with evidence that the trended and aggregate outcomes were used to develop and maintain and revise the program.”

Wynn says the college is addressing concerns about the nursing program’s curriculum and outcomes.

“So we’re continuing to make those improvements and the make those adjustments that they recommend," she said. "In order to do so, we feel like we need the 2019 and 2020 academic year to continue to do that.”

Students currently enrolled in the program will not see any changes.

“Those that will be impacted are those who planned to be a part of the first year of nursing class for the fall 2019, or anybody who had deferred from last year and was hoping to enroll in fall 2019," said Wynn. "We are inviting those folks to consider being part of early admissions and they would be applying for the fall of 2020.”

Wynn says the college’s goal is to continue to make sure enrolled students stay in the program and successfully complete it.

“So we wanted to ensure when we accept students in that we were able to from the start to the very finish that we were able to put in place opportunies to assess their performance and to assess what was happening in the program as we always have but remaining committed to high quality nursing education for the 21st century,” she said.

“One of the pieces that we’re working on is developing the strategies for collecting the data that shows that our students are learning what they need to learn and that’s what our accreditors are looking for – how do we assess the learning that’s happening in our classroom and clinical experiences," said BCC president Ellen Kennedy. She stressed the enrollment pause is voluntary, intended to shore up the nursing program’s abilities to meet contemporary standards for the field.

“We thought this was the right move to really provide the time for our faculty to focus on this," she told WAMC. "It’s really hard to be full-time teaching and doing the regular work to insure your accreditation, and then to be addressing issues that you want to strengthen in your program. So we made the decision to pause and work on and allow our faculty to have the time they need to do this kind of work so that when we come back in 2020 in the fall with a brand new cohort of students, that’s all they’ll be able to focus on. They can just work on being faculty and implementing some of the changes that we’ll be making.”

Students in the second year of the program will continue with their studies during the pause.

Wynn says the college doesn’t face any larger threats.

“We are actually going through a 10-year visit with our NECHE accreditation – so that’s the college-wide 10-year accreditation," said the dean. "We just had a preliminary visit with our chair yesterday. It went very, very well. We expect that the full accrediting team from that group is going to come back and pay a visit to us in October. All signs indicate that we’re doing good work, and our accrediting chair was optimistic when he spoke with us yesterday.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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