School of Nursing expects to remain in good standing despite downward trend in NCLEX-RN pass rates

Professor Christine Moniyung teaches the Adult Health III nursing class. Friday, October 22, 2021. (Photo by: Xander Ordinola)
Professor Christine Moniyung teaches the Adult Health III nursing class. Friday, October 22, 2021. (Photo by: Xander Ordinola)

Southern Adventist University’s School of Nursing (SON) is expecting lower first-time pass rates for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) this year, according to SON Dean Holly Gadd. This has raised some concerns about the nursing program’s future among faculty and students, but Gadd does not expect possible lower rates to affect the program’s accreditation going forward, she wrote in an email to the Accent. 

Gadd explained that nursing students take the NCLEX-RN after graduation, and there is a trend toward lower NCLEX-RN scores this year among Southern graduates. She listed COVID-19 as a potential factor. 

The SON is currently analyzing data to determine if changes are needed to better help students succeed, according to Gadd. She added that SON faculty are encouraging students to take the standards the SON is held to more seriously.

“Sometimes, students are not aware of the pressures we face as an institution and take a laid-back approach, figuring that if they don’t pass the NCLEX the first time, they will just take it again and that it doesn’t matter,” Gadd wrote in the email. “The fact is: It does matter!!”

Gadd said if students continue this pattern, the SON “will be having conversations” with Tennessee’s Board of Nursing (BON) and possibly the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Those conversations have not yet occurred, as the 2021 first-time pass rates will not be made available until early February, according to Gadd. She does not anticipate losing accreditation from the ACEN or approval from the BON. 

Furthermore, Gadd said the BON recently made a routine visit to the SON and noted no areas of concern. The 2020 first-time pass rates for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Associate of Science (AS) nursing programs met the standards of the BON and the ACEN, according to Gadd. 

“We remain in excellent standing,” Gadd wrote in her email. “We have a strong nursing program with good students.”

In 2020, the AS program’s first-time pass rate was 88%, and the BSN program’s first-time pass rate was 90%, according to the BON’s 2020 Annual Report. The AS program’s rate was 92% in 2018 and 2019, 88% in 2017 and 82% in 2016, according to the report. Gadd said the report did not include rates for the BSN program from 2016 to 2019 because the SON did not have a pre-licensure BSN program then.

Some students in the SON said professors have recently stated that the nursing program is in danger of losing its accreditation. 

Junior nursing major Lexie Dornburg said a nursing professor told her class about three weeks ago that the program was on probation. When the Accent contacted the professor, she said she told students the program was in danger of being put on probation. The professor wished to remain anonymous. Gadd also said the program is not on probation, although she understands rumors have started due to the downward trend in NCLEX-RN scores.

Dornburg said her professor asked the class if older nursing students told them not to worry about taking the NCLEX-RN for the first time because they could always retake it. A few students raised their hands, according to Dornburg. She said the professor explained that this was not smart because students must pay to take the test again. And, more importantly, the professor allegedly said, the nursing program could be in danger of losing its accreditation if a large number of students took the NCLEX-RN for the first time without preparing and failed. 

“Hearing [that] honestly shocked me in the sense that anyone would be so carefree about NCLEX preparations,” Dornburg said. “… I was also surprised that they didn’t think about the fact that it could negatively impact the university.”

Dornburg said the professor continued to explain that nursing students graduating in December and May will be the “determinants” for the nursing program’s accreditation status. 

Senior nursing major Leanne Eckhart said she has heard students express concern that the nursing program is in danger of losing its accreditation, but she thinks these statements often exaggerate the problem.“I think the rumors about the program are much worse than reality,” Eckhart said. “From what I’ve seen and heard, the nursing department is taking this seriously. … I have gotten nothing but reassurance that the program is not getting shut down — just that we have to work on improving pass rates.”

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