Can you imagine graduating from your nurse practitioner program only to learn that you are ineligible to practice as an NP as a result of your school’s accreditation status? This happened to a group of adult-geriatric nurse practitioner students last year at Mount Mary College in South Dakota. 14 months later, AGNP students are still picking up the pieces of the school’s blunder.
The adult-geriatric nurse practitioner program was new to the college, undergoing the accreditation process as it admitted its first class of students. While other nursing programs at the school had successfully been accredited in the past, the AGNP program failed to meet required standards. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education stated the program lacked sufficient staffing as well as meeting and office space. This left AGNP program graduates unable to obtain certification, licensure and therefore jobs meanwhile strapped with student loans.
To remedy the error, the school offered students admission into the accredited family nurse practitioner post-graduate program leaving them to complete yet more coursework and clinical hours. Not and ideal fix. How can you prevent this kind of nightmare from becoming reality for you as a nurse practitioner student?
Attending only accredited programs and institutions is, of course, the best way to prevent this sort of scenario. Regardless of where you enroll in a nurse practitioner program, it’s wise to have a basic understanding of accreditation so you aren’t mislead as you further your education. This way, you can be aware of institutional situations that could affect your future career status.
What exactly is accreditation?
Accreditation assures that colleges, universities, and the programs they offer meet certain standards. Accreditation is established by private agencies and does not involve the US government or the US Department of Education. States do give schools ‘approval’ to operate as businesses, but approval does not speak to the quality or type of education schools provide. Colleges and universities are accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a board that establishes academic standards. This prevents ‘diploma mills’ and ensures that students granted degrees receive a certain quality of education.
What is the difference between accrediting a school and a program?
Colleges and universities themselves are accredited differently than their individual programs. Many programs, particularly those leading to a career in a specific profession such as nursing, must also meet the standards of a profession-specific reviewing agency. Nurse practitioner programs, for example, must obtain accreditation through either The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). So, it is possible for a college or university to be accredited as an institution but have programs that have not been accredited through their industry-specific accrediting bodies.
How will attending an unaccredited nurse practitioner program affect your career?
While you may still attend and graduate from an unaccredited nurse practitioner program, as in the case of the Mount Mary AGNP grads above, the degree won’t get you very far. In order to obtain certification as a nurse practitioner you must have graduated from an accredited program. Without certification, you cannot obtain state licensure. Without licensure, you cannot practice.
What about programs with pending accreditation or accreditation on probation?
While new nurse practitioner programs of course hope to obtain accreditation, there is no guarantee the status will be granted. Schools on probation may get their accredited status back, and they may not. As a student, you have little if any control over this process. Even if a school markets itself as undergoing accreditation or nearly accredited, beware. This may not actually come to fruition. As an NP student with limited time and a limited budget, attending a nurse practitioner program that is not fully accredited is too big of a risk to take. Look elsewhere when it comes to your education.
How can you tell is a nurse practitioner program is accredited?
The ACEN and CCNE websites each contain a search feature allowing prospective students to determine which programs in their area are formally accredited. Search your NP programs of interest prior to applying or enrolling to ensure your education is in good hands.
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