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Boston school’s nursing program gets warning from state

If MCPHS University’s nursing program does not correct problems, the state could withdraw its approval.
If MCPHS University’s nursing program does not correct problems, the state could withdraw its approval.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The nursing program at MCPHS University in Boston was given a formal warning from the state after students’ sagging scores on the nursing licensure exam triggered a review that uncovered larger problems, documents show.

State officials believe the school has run afoul of regulations regarding oversight, instructor qualifications, and student evaluations in the nursing program, according to a letter sent to the school by the state.

Regulators from the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing gave the school three deadlines, most recently June 2017, to submit material showing its progress to correct the issues, and they recently revisited the school, according to the state.

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The review is ongoing. If the university does not correct the problems, the state could withdraw its approval of the program, which last fall had 327 students.

The nursing program is the second one at the Fenway-based health sciences university that recently has been put on notice by regulatory agencies.

The Globe reported last week that the doctor of pharmacy program was placed on probation by accreditors in June.

School administrators acknowledged the nursing program’s status on Monday and said they are working to correct the problems, which were first cited by the state in December.

“Our goal is to have the warning status removed within the next academic year, and we believe we are on track,” said MCPHS University provost George Humphrey, in a statement. He said the university expects state regulators will report their findings to the school in the fall.

MCPHS University, previously called the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, has about 7,000 students. It is best known for its pharmacy program but now offers a host of other health care degree programs at its campuses in Boston, Worcester, and Manchester, N.H.

Financial rating agencies have given the school strong marks, but it relies almost entirely on student tuition for revenue.

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The school has significantly increased enrollment in recent years, from 1,737 in 2000 to 6,674 in 2014, according to Moody’s Investor Service.

MCPHS University offers several nursing degrees in Worcester and Manchester, but only the Boston accelerated bachelor of science in nursing degree was warned.

The state review of that program was triggered by a consistently low rate of graduates passing the professional nursing licensure exam, known as the NCLEX-RN. When state regulators reviewed the school, however, they cited 11 areas where the Boston program fell short of the state regulations that govern nursing schools.

A three-page letter from Angela M. MacDonald, the state nursing education coordinator, listed the areas and asked the school to submit certain documents and monthly reports of its progress to correct the problems.

According to the state letter, the nursing school fell short in each of the five broad categories of state regulations for such schools. Those categories are program mission and governance, faculty qualifications, students, curriculum, and resources.

The letter does not say exactly what problems regulators found but cites the regulations in question. One has to do with the educational qualifications of professors and another is the requirement that all admitted students possess a high school diploma or equivalent and be immunized.

The letter also cites a regulation that requires written agreements with agencies where students do clinical learning, and another that says faculty shall evaluate students’ academic progress.

A spokesman for the state nursing board said on Monday that the school has been “very responsive” and met the monthly benchmarks described in the letter.

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The university responded to questions from the Globe with the statement from Humphrey. The provost acknowledged that the review was triggered by sub-par scores on the licensure exam. The state requires nursing schools to maintain a pass rate of 80 percent or higher for first-time test takers.

The state publishes exam pass rates for all Massachusetts nursing schools online, which show that in 2016 the pass rate for MCPHS’s Boston nursing program was 68 percent. In 2015 it was 73 percent and in 2014 it was 76 percent. In 2013, it was 55 percent, according to the state. The MCPHS scores for the Worcester program are consistently higher.

In his statement, Humphrey stressed that the warning does not pertain to the post-baccalaureate program in Boston or the Worcester or Manchester nursing programs. All nursing graduates are still eligible to take the licensure exam, he said.

Humphrey said the three-year program in Boston places 98 percent of its graduates in nursing jobs within a year of graduation. It remains accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Tuition for the three-year accelerated nursing program in Boston, which accepts high school graduates and prepares them to be nurses, is $45,750 per year, including the summer semester.

There are eight other nursing programs in Massachusetts on “approval with warning” status, according to the state.

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Meanwhile the school’s signature pharmacy degree program, the doctor of pharmacy on the Boston campus, remains on academic probation by its accreditors because of overcrowded buildings and not enough professors. It is working to correct those problems as well, school officials said last week.

Pharmacy students said the university’s Longwood campus is so crowded it is hard to find a space in the library to study.


Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.