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Norfolk State University nursing program in jeopardy

Jordan Crawford | 8/7/2013, 4 p.m.
NSU plans to deliberate whether to continue its associate's program because the market now requires four-year nursing degrees.
NSU’s nursing program has a 60 percent African American student population.

Norfolk is one of just four divisions statewide whose school nurses are employees of the public health department rather than the school system. Chesterfield, Arlington and Fairfax are the others.

With state funding for Norfolk's school nurses steadily shrinking, the School Board is debating whether it could save money by substituting less-expensive health care providers for the registered nurses currently in place.

This already provides the Norfolk State University nursing program with a grim outlook. Sadly, there is more to the department’s woes.

The president of NSU’s accrediting body has sent a request to the school asking for more information on its delayed auditing process and a recent ruling on one of its nursing programs.

According to Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the request is standard after the organization receives "unsolicited information." In this case, that would be recent news articles highlighting NSU's failed attempts to complete financial audits for 2011 and 2012.

The university is also burdened with enrollment concerns surrounding uncertainties over interest rates on student loans.

Furthermore, the Virginia Board of Nursing recently ruled that NSU cannot admit any new students into its two-year associate degree nursing program for a year due to passing rates for its students on the NCLEX, a national licensing exam, diving below 80 percent during each of the past three years. The rates were 76 percent in 2010, 47.8 percent in 2011, and 54 percent in 2012.

Dr. Bennie Marshall, professor and chair of the Nursing and Allied Health Department at NSU, said that while the associate’s degree program has come to a halt, the bachelor’s degree program is accredited and continues to thrive and the department has added a new track for freshman students.

“Healthcare practices are steadily changing. Incoming freshman and those who were in the associate’s program before will be able to feed into the bachelor’s program. Those who may have been specifically seeking the associate’s program can get general education for two years, then come back and get their Bachelor’s.”

Tackling the school’s enrollment issue, NSU Provost, Sandra DeLoatch, said the university has a target enrollment of 71,000 for fall and currently 5,600 students have preregistered. Registration is highest during late August. The nursing board order will not affect current students in the associate program. Approximately 230 students were enrolled in the program last year and 92 registered so far for the upcoming fall semester.

According to Thomas Chewning, NSU rector, the university plans to deliberate whether to continue the associate’s program because the market now requires four-year nursing degrees.

NSU alumnus, Rakeia Manley, believes that people hearing this news may use it to confirm their views of NSU being a below average school, mainly because it is an HBCU, and that the university should make strides to shed that fallacy.

The school’s image is rooted in a long history. NSU opened during the Great Depression, functioning as a local arm of Virginia Union University in Richmond. Classes were held in rented rooms in a local YMCA. NSU’s doors were opened for blacks who did not have the money to study outside the city but were barred by segregation from the college across town, now ODU.