Arizona nursing school avoids abrupt shutdown

Phoenix-based Aspen University's nursing program has been at the center of investigation for more than a year from accrediting authorities and the state's board of nursing. Newly proposed amendments to its teach-out agreement allowed it to avoid a shutdown vote from the Arizona State Board of Nursing.

The university's pre-licensure bachelor of science in nursing program surrendered its license in September and was also previously investigated by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, which cited "ongoing problems including the quality and integrity of the program," among others.

At a March 23 meeting to decide the program's fate, Aspen University counsel proposed new amendments to its teach-out agreement for students to avoid an abrupt shutdown, so the remaining enrollees could graduate. The board went into executive session for more than an hour for legal advice to review the proposed amendments.

"Aspen University's goal and the board's goal are not different," a board member said during the meeting. "We want safe, quality teaching practices for everyone involved." 

A vote to shut the program down before it completed the teach-out plan that was already in place would have forced students to finish their nursing education elsewhere. 

"They need to stop and just let us graduate. The proof will be in our passing of the NCLEX," one student, who did not wish to be identified, said while waiting for the board to return from its private review of the amendments. "I don't know how anyone is expected to keep studying with all of this pressure on the school closing or not. We don't want it to be a moving target anymore."

After returning from executive session, a motion was made to accept the agreed-upon amendments

"The amendment allows Aspen BSN program to continue its teach-out with additional oversight by a consultant and ombudsperson, and additional, specific requirements regarding the educational requirements, particularly related to clinicals, testing integrity and skills testing," a statement released by the board of nursing said. "The amendment also requires additional reporting to the board."

If Aspen University fails to adequately address the issues with the newly proposed oversight, the teach-out could still possibly be terminated by the board. As of now, the program's ongoing teach-out will "offer instruction for its existing nursing students for up to two years, so that they may complete their degrees or seek other options."

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