(EDWARDSVILLE, Ill.) The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) has awarded a 10-year accreditation, the longest possible under CCNE guidelines, to the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Nursing, an achievement that was hard fought and well deserved. The CCNE findings came as a result of some five years of work that involved curriculum examination, procedural changes, pedagogical advances and months of planning and self-scrutiny.
In 2001, the SIUE nursing program was put on probation for three years because students' average scores on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX ) had fallen below state standards for two consecutive testing periods. It was that scenario that greeted Marcia Maurer when she became dean of the School. "When I arrived, I heard three persistent stories about the School: 1) We were closing 2) We had lost our accreditation, neither of which was ever true; and 3) We were on probation for low NCLEX scores, which was true," Maurer said. "If you have two successive test scores that are below the state guidelines, a nursing school is put on probation for three years by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation."
She doesn't offer it as an excuse, but SIUE wasn't alone in receiving probation. Maurer pointed out that school probations were happening throughout the country at that time because NCLEX exams had been changed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Many schools, including SIUE, she said, were caught unawares. "It was a very sobering experience; some very prestigious schools were recording low scores or put on probation. We were all caught off guard."
Rather than bury her head in the sand, Maurer took the probation news as an impetus to begin overhauling the curriculum to ensure that SIUE nursing graduates were receiving the kind of quality education that would serve them well in the real world. SIUE students now average between 86 and 96 on NCLEX exams, higher than or at the national and state averages, and well above the minimum average of 75 required by the state. "I finally decided to just forget the past and basically start from scratch," she said.
That determination led to examination of what was being taught and what improvements were needed, which included updating the School's Simulated Learning Center for Health Sciences (SLCHS). The SLCHS offers a high-tech setting for students and trained professionals to make critical, split-second decisions in a practice environment. The SLCHS also trains students to face real-world scenarios with conviction and confidence."
It appears that the self-examination and hard work has paid off. The CCNE recently finished the School's accreditation process and gave an A+. "The accreditors used the phrase 'the program is inspiring,'" Maurer said with pleasure. "I've been in three accreditation meetings in my career and I've never heard that phrase used before and accredited herself said she never uses that phrase. It's like the analogy of the Phoenix rising-we were as low as we could get and look at what we've become."
The accreditation process for nursing schools occurs every 10 years and includes scrutiny of a school's curriculum, its faculty, NCLEX exam scores for registered nurses, and success of alumni. All factors are measured against prescribed levels of excellence put forth nationally by the CCNE. An accreditation team then comes to campus for three days for an on-site visit. "They interviewed faculty, they interviewed students, myself, my associate and assistant deans, department chairs, and they even visited with the Provost and the Chancellor," Maurer said. "We also prepare a comprehensive report that the accreditation team scrutinizes to make sure there are no major errors or deviance from the national standards for nursing education.
"The accreditation team presented the School faculty, students and staff, and key University administrators with a verbal report on the last day of their visit," she said. "Not only did they find the program to be inspiring, but they also found no areas of non-compliance," she said. "We were stunned; they always find something wrong but in our case they went so far as to commend us for our proactive stance in the face of our probation for the low scores.
"This accreditation means that we have met the highest standards for nursing education," Maurer said. "What does that mean for students? It means that a student who comes here can be assured of receiving the highest quality education. And, the agencies that are considering graduates of the SIUE program for hiring can be sure of getting an excellent nurse."