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NPC appeals AHECB decision that derailed baccalaureate program

by Brandon Smith | May 25, 2022 at 4:04 a.m.
The National Park College Student Commons building, which opened in 2019. - Photo by Andrew Mobley of The Sentinel-Record


National Park College has appealed the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board's April 29 decision to deny a role and scope change for the college that would ultimately allow it to offer a baccalaureate degree.

"Two dozen states already allow community colleges to provide select bachelor's degrees with the purpose of offering education and training in high-demand career fields specific to their communities," NPC President John Hogan said Tuesday afternoon.

"We are not trying to form a new playbook. NPC has an obligation to our students and our community to continue this journey. If any of the options we pursue result in bachelor's degrees for which our students and the citizens we serve have asked, we must explore all of them," Hogan said.

"We have received an outpouring of support and encouragement, as well as continued interest from our students. One student even asked me about it at commencement as she received her diploma. We also hear that same drumbeat in the community. We remain appreciative of the support from our health care providers, legislators and community leaders. We will continue to seek their advice as we move forward."

In a letter of appeal dated Monday, NPC said it learned through the Arkansas attorney general's office that, according to ADHE's policy, institutions may appeal a decision of the coordinating board within 30 days of the vote. NPC learned of the option to appeal in the week following the vote.

NPC asks for the board's reconsideration based on the following four points: NPC did not have the opportunity to respond to questions posed on an "FAQ" sheet given to the board, because NPC did not see it until after the meeting; NPC is confused over whether ADHE staff did, or did not, recommend the proposal; community presenters were not provided ample time to convey their support; and "the circumstances of the meeting were extraordinary."

Regarding the latter point, Hogan cited the fact the entire board was not present, as four members logged out of the virtual meeting before hearing the college's proposal. He also noted many of the "no" voters expressed reluctance and that a "decision of this magnitude warrants a review and conversation with the entire board."

While noting the college did not have the opportunity to address the information on the "FAQ" sheet, he did address it in the letter. Regarding the number of graduates in Registered Nursing and Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs, NPC said its program has enrolled a full cohort of students each year, and expects to again this fall.

"NPC's program expanded in 2016 with the goal of gradually doubling the students we accept. This was part of an ill-fated partnership with (Henderson State University) to provide BSN on the NPC campus. However, NPC continued to increase enrollment until the pandemic," the letter said.

NPC Dean of Nursing Janice Ivers said the department began to "push to help alleviate the shortage of nurses here in Garland County," in 2014 and has not turned away any qualified students to the RN program for the past several years. In 2018, the NPC nursing program increased its number of admissions from 40 to 85 qualified applicants.

Following two years of COVID-19 influenced admission numbers, 85 applicants were admitted in 2021, though some declined due to the pandemic. Ivers said, "the applicant pool for 2022 is robust and a full cohort of 85-90 students is expected."

The college has enrolled a full class of Associate of Science in Nursing students every year for the past eight years and grown the number accepted within that time as well, the letter said.

ADHE noted in the FAQ sheet that it was not clear in NPC's proposal where the 120 bachelor level hours would come from as the college stated it would require 33 extra credit hours over the RN degree's 66 hours. NPC clarified in the letter that the BSN completion is 33 hours above the 90 hours students earn when receiving their ASN.

"Students would complete 120 hours much as they do now with an online completion program," it said.

"This program would absolutely fulfill the needed 120-hour requirement. The specific hours of the degree are provided in detail in the degree proposal, which the ADHE Director assured us had been made available to the Board.

"Again, by ADHE's policy document, the staff should have either recommended the proposal or provided NPC with the reasons they did not recommend it. We received no communication about the concern for a shortage of credit hours. There is no shortage of credit hours. The staff knew this, so it was not correct to state otherwise in the FAQ document."

Addressing a statement by the ADHE staff noting that students enrolled in the proposed BSN program already have their RN licensure and, therefore, the program would not create more nurses, the letter said, "NPC vehemently disputes the assertion that this program will not produce additional RNs, and we are both shocked and disappointed by this misleading assertion by the ADHE staff.

"This program will increase the number of ASN students in addition to increasing BSN attainment in our county. Our interviews with students, prospective students, and graduates indicate it will increase the pipeline to our ASN program. The boldface type used to state that this will not create additional RNs implies a certainty. To suggest, without evidence, that our program would not expand undermines our goal to produce nurses in our service area. What research did ADHE conduct to reach such a definite conclusion?" the letter said.

According to the letter, NPC used a 50-mile radius and pandemic-era figures to determine the growing demand for BSNs in the region was over 3,300. Dr. Douglas Ross, president of CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs, said the notion of a surplus of nurses within the region's hospitals is "just untrue."

"Throughout the pandemic, hospitals in Southwest Arkansas had nursing vacancy rates of anywhere from 30-50% on some of the hospital units," he said in the letter.

"The only way we could meet the needs of the community with those types of vacancy rates was to turn to traveler nursing programs at a premium cost to staff those units.

"These increased costs have threatened the sustainability of the health care system as we know it today. Additionally, with our continual desire to improve the quality of care we provide, we are turning to BSN trained nurses more and more to serve in our facilities. Recently, CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs was named as a Magnet hospital by the American Nursing Association. Magnet is the highest honor a hospital can receive in nursing excellence. Magnet hospitals are actually required to fill numerous positions in the hospital with only BSN trained nurses because of the more advanced training and care they provide," Ross said.

Hogan said he appreciates the coordinating board's dedication to higher learning and humbly requests a re-review of the materials and a reconsideration of the circumstances. The information provided to the board without NPC's knowledge, he noted, prevented a fair hearing.

Or, visit https://bit.ly/3NDZPqt to view the appeal document.


Print Headline: NPC appeals AHECB decision that derailed baccalaureate program

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