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Health & Science

Texas Regulators Shut Down Admissions At Houston Community College’s Nursing Program

The associate’s degree program in nursing at Coleman College of Health Sciences can’t admit new students in 2016


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Houston Community College can't admit new students into its associate's degree program for registered nurses until 2017 at the earliest. The move by state regulators comes after students' average passing rate on the national licensing exam dropped below 80 percent three years in a row.

Administrators have already identified the academic problems and fixed them, said Dr. Phil Nicotera, president of HCC's Coleman College of Health Sciences.

"We've done a complete reversal," he said.

Nicotera explained that previous administrators wanted to increase enrollment because of a national nursing shortage. Among other changes, they lowered the GPA needed for admission and tried teaching classes on an accelerated basis.

"That was very challenging for students, to try to master that much information in eight weeks," Nicotera said. "So we went back to the 16-week format."

Students now get more test prep and other support, Nicotera said. Scores on the national licensing exam (given periodically throughout the year) are already improving, he said. Next fall the college can ask state regulators to review average exam scores and rescind the conditional probation. It's unclear how soon after that nursing aspirants could start applying again.

One quality problem facing nursing schools in Texas is competition for professors, according to Cindy Zolnierek, executive director of the Texas Nurses Association.

"We've seen a huge increase in the number of nursing schools in the state. It tremendously increases the demand for faculty, and faculty positions often pay much less than nurses are able to make in the service area, in actual clinical practice."

There are about twenty schools for registered nurses in the Houston region.

Two of them, Lone Star College Kingwood and Lone Star College North Harris, were just released from warning status after two years of lower passing rates on the national exam.

But since the problem didn't continue for a third year, they were allowed to continue admitting students. Both programs were restored to "Full Approval" status in January by the Texas Board of Nursing.