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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.

For decades, NSU prided itself on its open-admissions policy that required no minimum grade-point average. The school produced its share of success stories, including a national ranking among all colleges for the number of black science graduates.

However, the policy attracted a student population that, on average, was more likely to work full time and was lower-income. That meant students were more likely to default on student loans and to drop out or not graduate on time. The school routinely had some of the highest loan default and lowest graduation rates in the state.

Apparently, during the 90s, Norfolk State established academic requirements to strengthen its financials and improve its graduation rate, but it left room for some low-achieving students.

Former NSU President, Carolyn Meyers, said the lack of adequate funding is what is really plaguing the school, especially during this difficult economic climate. NSU has lost more than $10 million in pay cuts over the past three years.

“It’s also a fairly new school,” said, current NSU President, Dr. Tony Atwater. “It became independent 40 years ago, a relative newbie in a state with some of the country’s oldest colleges. Norfolk State has a small and young alumni pool to tap for money, and a sparse endowment.”

Marshall boasts of the nursing program’s image as it has a 60 percent African-American student population. “While the campus as a whole is predominately black, our program is seeking ways to increase diversity. We are also off to a great start, as far as pass rates on the NCLEX are concerned. This year we had an 80/20 pass rate,” she said.

The school has seen improvement in other areas, too. The latest freshman retention rate was 72 percent, up from 70 percent last year. The six-year graduation rate was 32 percent, up from 30 percent two years ago. Completed applications are up 4 percent, and the GPA for the incoming freshman class is near 3.0, up from last year's 2.7.

NSU was the only public, four-year institution in Virginia to see enrollment drop between 1987 and 2007, according to the state council that oversees colleges and universities. From 1987 to 2007, its enrollment fell 20 percent - from 7,721 students to 6,155.

Atwater believes greater enrollment will bring in more tuition money, and targeting applicants with higher grades means students who are more likely to finish school. The university is also recruiting more out-of-state students -- who pay higher tuition-- and plans to recruit internationally as well.

“We have some major fixing to do, but my goal as the current president is to get NSU where it needs to be, and prove to everybody that we truly are the ‘institution of choice’,” Atwater said.