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STUDENTS CLAIM CAREER DAMAGE
A group of 29 Virginia Western Community College nursing students are demanding more than $7.25 million from the state of Virginia and the Virginia Community College System for what they say was irreparable damage to their careers.
The students, many of whom graduated Friday, have filed a claim in Richmond, blaming the school for failing to disclose its loss of accreditation from the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, which they say will cost them some potential for employment or higher education. They also contend the college misrepresented its nursing program, according to their attorneys, Jeffrey Dorsey and John Fishwick Jr.
Virginia law requires them to file a claim with the state before filing any kind of lawsuit.
The college lost its accreditation from the NLNAC in June, but students only heard about it in the last few weeks through word of mouth. The school then made the accreditation loss public in late April.
Students graduating from the nursing program can go on to a four-year school to earn their bachelor's degrees, or they can become registered nurses by passing a national licensure examination required by the state. They can then look for employment as RNs.
But the students say that a degree from a non-accredited school limits them either way. Some universities will not accept them into a bachelor's program if they have not graduated from an accredited school, and for those who enter the work force, not graduating from an accredited nursing program can mean not getting a job.
"If they are in a pool of applicants from accredited schools and they are from a non-accredited school," Dorsey said, "they are at an obvious competitive disadvantage."
Maggie Boyes, a spokeswoman for Virginia Western, disagreed. "The NLNAC status does not affect the students' ability to apply for a job, to transfer to a school or to take the licensing exam." And that, she said, is why the school didn't inform the students of the loss of accreditation.
Kirsten Asmus, a doctoral student at Yale University and a former faculty member at its school of nursing, thinks Boyes is probably right.
"I will bet that if you took a poll of nurse recruiters, most wouldn't know which schools are accredited," she said. "I don't believe they would have trouble getting jobs."
Dorsey said it doesn't matter. By not telling them of the loss of accreditation, Virginia Western effectively violated its contract with them.
"What they paid for was an education, fully accredited," he said. "That's not what they got."
According to Virginia Western's Nursing Program Handbook for 2006-07, the college's curriculum "is accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission." And the Nursing Program Overview available through its Web site indicated as late as April that it had accreditation, even though the college had known for almost nine months that that wasn't the case.
Becoming re-accredited can take from six months to two and a half years. The school must first apply to be a candidate by meeting certain basic requirements. Once accepted as a candidate it has two years to meet the full NLNAC standards and apply for accreditation.
According to a statement on the college's Web site, "VWCC is now in candidacy."
However, Anthony Bugay, an NLNAC accreditation specialist, said that statement is incorrect. Virginia Western has not been accepted for candidacy.
Boyes agreed that the information was incorrect and said it will be changed.
Asmus thinks the college's story is likely to be repeated. It lost its accreditation in large part because it did not have enough instructors with master's degrees.
"That actually speaks to the national shortage of nursing faculty," she said. "And if that trend continues it will blossom like global warming."
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