Nursing program working to regain extra national accreditation after five years

Published by Jazmin Ode on

(Left) Chelsea Gillespie-Towne, Director of Nursing, (Right) Ruth Verkuyl, Administrative Assistant, are seen in front of the Health, Nursing & Science building. Gillespie-Towne explains that although the national accreditation no longer remains in UCC, there are still ways to receive a degree that is nationally accredited.
Jazmin Ode / The Mainstream

UCC’s widely acclaimed nursing program is working to supplement its current state approval by regaining national accreditation status through the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

The national accreditation isn’t required by the Oregon State Board of Nursing which has always approved UCC’s nursing program; however, the additional accreditation will increase the program’s prestige, even though the program is already widely recognized for its NCLEX-RN passing rate. Its three-year average is currently 93.20% and rising. “Our one-year pass rate for this last graduating cohort is 100%; 100% of the RN students that took the NCLEX since June of 2022 have passed (this includes students that took the test more than once),” Director of Nursing Chelsea Gillespie-Towne says. UCC President Rachel Pokrandt agrees: “Our nursing program is extremely successful; we have a really high pass rate for NCLEX.”

The NCLEX is the National Council Licensure Examination. This council has been responsible since 1994 for approving nationwide examinations throughout the United States, Canada and Australia for nursing licensing.  

“We are a fully approved nursing school. We are approved through the OSBN, which is the Oregon State Board of Nursing. In order to run a nursing program in Oregon, you have to be approved by the OSBN. They are the licensing board, so they are the ones that the students are testing and taking their state license exam from,” Gillespie-Towne says. “We’re also accredited by the college’s regional accreditation body. In order to be a nursing school in the state of Oregon that is associated with a community college, the community college has to be regionally accredited.”

The community has been confused concerning the college’s accreditation and ability to graduate nurses after UCC stopped maintaining their national accreditation. “About five years ago, way before my time, the college decided to give up its national accreditation. The national accreditation isn’t something you need to be a nurse,” Pokrandt says.

The UCC nurses can be seen spending hours on their required lab.
Jazmin Ode / The Mainstream

Gillespie-Towne says, “National accreditation is an option; it’s not a requirement. There are only four community college associate nursing programs in the state of Oregon that have national accreditation because it’s not required, and it’s expensive and it takes a lot of work getting it and maintaining it.”

Other than the expense, what other reason would the college stop maintaining its national accreditation? “We have a consortium with Oregon Health and Science University, which is OHSU. Our students are automatically enrolled in a bachelor’s program so when they graduate this UCC program they can continue on at OHSU and get their bachelor’s degree that following year. If they go on and get their bachelor’s degree, they are graduating from a nationally accredited school,” Gillespie-Towne says. “All bachelor programs have to be nationally accredited. That’s why having our accreditation didn’t really matter because students went on to get their bachelors.”

If UCC nurses were automatically enrolled at OHSU when joining the nursing program, then why did UCC get nationally accredited in the first place? “For whatever reason, our local VA wanted students to be from a nationally accredited school, and it’s kind of an ever-evolving changing thing. Originally, they didn’t hire ADN nurses, associate degree nurses, at all. Didn’t matter if you came from an accredited school or not, they wanted you to have your bachelor’s degree to work at the local VA,” Gillespie-Towne says.

The former national accreditation helped UCC graduates meet their local VA hospital’s unique requirement. Gillespie-Towne explains that other VA facilities in Oregon didn’t have the national accreditation requirement.

 “With a joint discussion with our local VA, we thought that it was ok [to drop the national accreditation]. They would allow our students to come and do clinical without having that national accreditation. It wasn’t a problem. It was a joint discussion and decision to drop the accreditation in the first place.” 

National accreditation has been also required by a few other federal Oregon employers but not all. Associate degree nurses from programs without national accreditation have been able to work at mental hospitals, other Oregon VAs and prison systems, Gillespie-Towne says. If UCC returns to national accreditation, students will be able to take their degrees further.

UCC is confident about re-earning national accreditation. “We are getting it back! We actually have a visit by the accrediting body this fall. In October, they will be coming to re-accredit us for the national accreditation,” Pokrandt says. “That is an extra cherry on top of the program.” 

Who is accrediting UCC? “We are currently working on our national accreditation through ACEN, and we have our site visit in October of this year, and if we are approved after our site visit then we will be a nationally accredited nursing school as of June of 2022. They backtrace to when you initially applied for candidacy,”  Gillespie-Towne says.

Applications are open for those in the community who would like to join the nursing program or nursing students who are studying at UCC. These applications consist of applying to the program, volunteer verification, leadership verification and more. These applications close Feb. 15, 2023, at 5 p.m. Mailed applications are accepted if postmarked by the deadline.

Gillespie-Towne’s best advice for future nursing students is “It’s the hardest, best job you’ll ever have.”

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