State health regulators have pulled the approval of Roxbury Community College’s struggling nursing program, delivering a blow to a beleaguered campus that educates many of the city’s low-income and black and Hispanic students.
The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing withdrew its approval of the program this week, citing multiple longstanding leadership and academic problems at the community college.
The revocation is the latest setback to the 1,900-student campus, which in recent years has been dogged with infighting, leadership shuffles, and financial mismanagement.
“It’s very sad, it’s very concerning,” said Judith Pare, the director of the division of nursing education at the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “Any time we lose a program that serves inner-city students, it’s a huge loss.”
College officials said they are still trying to develop a plan to teach the 60 students currently enrolled in the nursing program.
Roxbury’s program has been under state warning since February 2017 and has not admitted new students since November, according to Ann Scales, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
But this week, the board withdrew the school’s approval “due to a continued inability to address a range of deficiencies,” Scales said.
The board was concerned about the lack of stability in the nursing leadership, the school’s failure to meet curriculum standards, its inadequate preparation of students before taking the national nursing exam, and insufficient resources to meet the program’s goals, Scales said.
Roxbury students lagged statewide in passing the nursing licensing exam: Its pass rate last year was 78 percent, the second-lowest in Massachusetts, where the average was 89 percent.
Additionally, since January 2017, Roxbury has appointed five administrators to run the nursing program, state officials said.
The last one, hired in January, resigned 2½ weeks ago, said Valerie Roberson, Roxbury’s president.
The school appointed a new internal candidate as director last week and is waiting for the state board to approve the position, Roberson said.
College officials are disappointed that it did not receive approval and will appeal the decision, she said.
“I don’t see this as a setback,” Roberson said. “It’s what happens in anybody’s course of a life, you have up days and down days. . . . RCC is not going to stop until we’re fully reinstated.”
Some students may be able to finish their nursing courses at Roxbury through the end of this year, but others could have to find alternative programs at other schools, she said.
Roberson said Roxbury has invested in its nursing program, spending $13 million since 2016 to update equipment and facilities, and redesigned the curriculum to better prepare students for exams. But the turnaround was too slow for regulators, she said.
Roxbury, where close to 80 percent of students receive federal Pell grants, a marker of poverty, and nearly an equal share are black and Latino, has struggled to find its footing on multiple fronts. Last year, Attorney General Maura Healey moved to take temporary control of the college’s foundation after a series of disputes and a mass resignation of the fund-raising arm’s board.
Roberson said the college is trying to put its problems behind, and the foundation is back to raising money.
The college remains committed to teaching nursing, she said.
Several community colleges in Massachusetts have struggled to retain their nursing programs.
Last year, Quincy College’s program lost accreditation after its pass rates on the national exam plummeted. Students were left scrambling for alternatives to the popular program.
In the year since, Quincy has gone through a leadership shake-up, including hiring a new dean of nursing, and revamped its curriculum. This spring, the state board agreed to let the college enroll students in its nursing program again.
Last fall, MassBay Community College announced it would suspend its nursing associates degree program because it was too costly to operate and enrollment was low.
Hiring nursing faculty can be difficult for these community colleges, said Pare, with the nurses union.
Many nurses can get paid more working on the hospital floor than in the classroom, she said.
Boston-area hospitals also primarily hire nurses with bachelor’s degrees, so a community college education isn’t always enough, she said.
Still, for students who are struggling financially, the two-year degree can be a pathway into the profession. After graduating from community college, they can get jobs at nursing homes or in the state prison system, then save enough money to go back to school and earn a bachelor’s degree, Pare said.
And in a profession that remains predominantly white, programs like Roxbury’s offered a way of drawing more nurses of color, Pare said.
“I’m really hoping that the leadership of the community college system will put more into this,” she said.
The Department of Higher Education said it was aware that Roxbury’s nursing program is no longer credentialed.
It remains unclear what Roxbury will need to do to regain state approval.