Nursing student’s enrolled in the college’s new bachelor’s degree program were thrown a big curveball after the postponement of the program’s accreditation, putting a wrench in many graduation plans.
Unlike the department’s associate’s degree program, which has been successful for more than 50 years, the bachelor’s degree portion has yet to be accredited and is currently in the candidacy state of the National League of Nursing Accrediting Commission’s accrediting process.
With the college’s secured candidacy status lasting two years, they have until Spring 2014 to set a date for an accreditation team to come and evaluate the curriculum, ultimately accrediting the program.
The nursing department had originally developed an overly ambitious plan to have the accreditation visit by May 2012, assuring students who enrolled that the accreditation would be final by that time.
Former nursing director Kim Ratelle, who abruptly departed soon after releasing information pertaining to the much-anticipated accreditation being delayed, was the force behind the four-year program and took the hit when things did not turn out as planned due to the strict expectation of the NLNAC.
Ratelle left students with a shocking letter in April, announcing her departure and introducing Ellen Ceppetelli as her new successor
“I knew when I came here that this program was not ready,” said Ceppetelli adding that improvements to the curriculum needed to be made in order to pass the NLNAC requirements.
Having been through a bachelor’s degree program accreditation before, Ceppetelli has strong understanding of what the accreditation team may is looking for.
“There is a plan in place,” said Ceppetelli, who hopes to get the program accredited by the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education’s accrediting body, whose prerequisites better fits Castleton’s nursing department’s platform.
CCNE Associate Director Lori Schroeder said the accrediting team does not track or monitor how many college’s postpone their visits, but that there are many reasons for a college to do so.
“Some are just not prepared,” she said. “For a program that’s new, as they develop their program they may realize they aggressively scheduled their visit.”
Though certification is completely voluntary, being accredited means the college has met a certain set of standards and has an additional stamp of approval, giving students a more desirable degree.
“We knew people were going to be disappointed,” said Ceppetelli of the accreditation delay. “But we had to be as honest as possible.”
The postponement of the accreditation visit will not penalize or have any negative effect on the college, but the decision has left bachelor program nursing students feeling betrayed.
Former Castleton nursing student Jessica Moore was among that group caught off-guard after hearing of the program’s delay.
“I heard only good things about the program before I started,” said Moore, adding she had even heard Castleton was one of the best nursing schools in New England.
But Moore’s opinions quickly changed. She said the program seemed disorganized and extremely stressful.
“By the end of last semester all I wanted to do was graduate and get out of that program,” she said
Moore spent three years at Castleton, and like several others, only finished with an associate’s degree instead of her desired bachelor’s degree.
Though she is now working in the nursing field, she feels that the college did not provide her with what she was told she would receive when entered the program.
“Only having an associate’s degree in nursing is extremely limiting,” said said, adding that a bachelor’s degree would have likely sped up her hiring process after school.
After weighing her options, Moore decided not to return to Castleton to finish her education, choosing to look elsewhere for an accredited program.
“I expected to be finishing up my bachelor’s degree this year and now I am searching for a program that I can afford that will probably take me a few years to complete,” she said.
Janelle Lehouillier was also upset at the way the situation was handled by faculty.
“Kim assured us that even if the program was not accredited in time for our graduation in the spring of 2013, that we would be ‘grandfathered’ into the program,” she said.
Lehouillier argues the issue of not being accredited in time was never mentioned until her junior year when Ratelle explained to students that the NLNAC site visit might be pushed back, meaning the class would not graduate from an accredited program.
“It was at that point that I felt they were keeping things from us. I felt lied to and felt like they robbed me,” she said, pointing out that she had completed all the requirement frames for a bachelor’s degree program and only ended up graduating with an associate’s.
Lehouillier decided to end her education at Castleton and is enrolled at Saint Josephs College in Maine where she will complete her nursing bachelor’s degree.
“I think Castleton should have made this situation right by coming clean,” she said, “and accepting the mistake they made.”
Those who chose to return to Castleton to finish their bachelor’s degree education will either graduate with a bachelor’s degree from an unaccredited college, or could take a year off and re-join the program once it has been accredited.
Ceppetelli and the nursing staff plan to schedule their bachelor’s degree accreditation visit for Fall 2013, but emphasizes that there is never any guarantees in the accreditation process.
“The department, led by its director, is working very hard to ensure that it’s curriculum, clinical experiences and supervision, syllabi, and assessment methods meet or exceed all standards,” said Academic Dean Tony Peffer, adding that the school it very fortunate to have Ceppetelli as our new nursing director.
Peffer is confident in the department’s ability to get accredited.
“Waiting for Fall 2013 was the right decision for the college and our students,” he said.
Ratelle could not be reached for comment despite e-mailed attempts.