Our Opinion: BCC deserves credit for enhancing nursing program

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In the summer of 2017, the nursing program at Berkshire Community College hit a snag. The pass rate for students taking the all-important National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) fell to 74 percent. This put the program under close scrutiny by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing as well as national accreditation authorities, which use the exam as a criterion for accrediting state nursing programs. The program's accreditation was placed on "conditional" status, and a second straight year of achieving a rate under the required 80 percent would have placed the program in non-compliance. Such an occurrence would have been catastrophic for the program as well as the Berkshire County health care establishment, due to the relative isolation of the county and its difficulty in importing nurses from elsewhere to fill sorely needed positions.

Fortunately for aspiring nurses, BCC and the Berkshires, the program's pass rate rose to 84 percent in 2018, which gives it a chance to shed that conditional status when the national accreditation authority makes its decision in March. As Christina Wynn, dean of enrollment management at BCC, told The Eagle, "We were pleased, but not surprised [students] were able to rise above the previous year's rate. A light was shined on the program by the accreditation issue."

With the BCC nursing program under the microscope of national and state accreditation authorities, it is encouraging that BCC takes the matter extremely seriously and has implemented an aggressive policy that focuses on individual students and measures their progress incrementally throughout their training.

According to Ms. Wynn, there are 56 open seats every fall for the two-year program. In the interest of wanting the students to succeed, fully absorb their training and not incidentally pass the all-important NCLEX at the conclusion of their studies, the college has begun mandating that prospective students attend an orientation session. In that session, students are made aware that the program and the community have standards to adhere to, which requires that students be full-time, rather than dovetail part-time work with their studies as do many students is less academically rigorous programs. More nursing faculty members, providing an infusion of talent and experience, have been brought on board. Maybe most important, according to Ms. Wynn, is that this faculty is based in the Berkshires, where nursing students can develop professional relationships with doctors and nurses as well as learn the nuts and bolts of the profession in a clinical environment and in a community where many of them will start their nursing careers.

Such improvements and enhancements demonstrate that BCC has no intention of allowing its invaluable nursing program to perish. The 2017 setback was a needed wake-up call that galvanized all involved, and it would behoove Berkshirites to keep a watchful and hopeful eye on next summer's test scores for proof that BCC's enhanced approach has borne fruit.

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