NORTH MANKATO — The nursing program at South Central College is under new leadership and is working toward reapplying for national accreditation after falling short several points on its first attempt.
Michele Brielmaier is the new interim director of nursing, replacing Marilyn Swan who left to accept a teaching position at Minnesota State University.
Swan left following notice that the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission determined not to accredit its associate in science degree in professional nursing program, having fallen four points short out of 56. The official word came from the commission in August.
Brielmaier has been on the faculty at SCC for six years, and she was part of the faculty-wide effort to put together the application for accreditation, she said. So as interim director, one of her first and foremost orders of business was to study where the program went wrong so its next attempt will be successful, she said.
“We’re looking at this as an opportunity to make sure we’re taking a close look at our program and improving and strengthening what the expectations are.”
The program has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission since 1995 and is approved by the Minnesota Board of Nursing, said Nancy Genelin, vice president of academic affairs.
“There’s never been a break in accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission,” Genelin said.
Following news in January that the program likely would not be accredited by NLNAC, Swan told students that areas that require additional development include creating clarity in the program outcomes to “the systematic evaluation plan for the program.” She also said further work was needed on evaluation of outcomes and “establishing expected levels of achievement.”
Brielmaier said there were nine new faculty members last fall who were less familiar with the program and therefore not as able as experienced faculty to communicate its standards and strengths to the commission.
“We are starting more robustly and looking at what it is that we need to do,” Brielmaier said. “We were not able to articulate clearly and stoutly enough.”
The program has been assigned a mentor by the commission. With her advice, Brielmeier said the faculty will focus on what they did well, improve upon the misses, and use all the information to update the program’s self-study for reapplying.
Brielmaier said the college’s pursuit of national accreditation began in 2009, when faculty started doing its initial self-study for the NLNAC application process. Faculty attended training workshops with the commission to learn the standards.
When the college applied last year, accreditation by the NLNAC was purely voluntary, Brielmaier said. Due to recent regulation changes by the Board of Nursing, accreditation by the NLNAC will be mandatory by 2016, Genelin said.
“Our team of nurses leaped out ahead of a requirement and got an early start,” said SCC President Keith Stover. “We missed four targets, (but) we did it with a brand-new staff. It was a pretty big challenge for all of them.”
Brielmaier sees the program’s early attempt at national accreditation as a good thing in light of the new board standards. It gave the college time to learn from the process and apply again within the required time frame.
In fact, SCC is in the midst of a “two-year candidacy” for accreditation by the NLNAC, so during that time-frame, faculty can start from scratch on a new application and resubmit. Brielmaier said the college may be ready to resubmit in the spring.
“We want to guarantee ourselves (approval next time),” she said.
Stover said the NLNAC accreditation process has been a learning experience for various Minnesota colleges. Others also have had to refile for accreditation after being declined on their first attempts, he said.
Valerie Shaw has been a student at SCC for five years, having started by just taking a class here and there. She eventually was accepted into the LPN program and graduated in May. She’s going to apply to the RN program in January, she said.
The news in January about the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission’s denial was a blow, she said.
“As a student, I was really hoping that the national accreditation would go through for the fact that there are multiple, businesses, hospitals and health care practices that may not hire you unless you have that accreditation, that you graduated from an accredited school,” Shaw said. “I can speak on behalf of a lot of my classmates that I graduated with last year. It was a big thing.”
Shaw has had classes with Brielmaier and said she has the utmost confidence in her ability to make the second attempt successful.
“I love her,” Shaw said. “The woman is a go-getter.”