By BOB ANEZ/Associated Press Writer
GREAT FALLS - The nursing program at Montana State University-Northern came under strong criticism by students and Great Falls hospital officials Thursday, prompting the state Board of Regents to order an investigation.
Students criticized the dean and some instructors in the program for adopting what they characterized as unfair policies and providing a poor quality education. Students contend the result was an unusually high failure rate this spring in the two-year program.
Carie Kidd, manager of employee services for Benefis Healthcare in Great Falls, called it alarming that 19 of 49 students failed to graduate from the program.
She also expressed concern that some students didn't find out until two days before graduation they would not get a diploma.
Terry Olinger, vice president of human resources for Benefis, complained that Northern officials rejected the hospital's offer to provide the instructors necessary this summer for students to make up a class they failed.
The problem is with those in charge of the program, he said.
Trish Goudie, dean of Northern's nursing program, defended her operation, saying it followed all the required policies and procedures.
What the students are unhappy is about is that the program raised its grading standards, a move approved by the state Board of Nursing, she said.
''We raised the bar. We have upheld the standards and we are following the policies,'' Goudie said. ''We are also committed to doing everything we can to help these students get through their education.''
She said the failure rate for this year's class was an aberration, but those students can re-enter the program during the next school year.
Goudie said she couldn't accept the Benefis offer for a summer class because there was not enough time to get approval of any instructors the hospital would provide, and her faculty has other commitments.
Goudie rejected claims she has ignored the concerns of students. ''I feel I have been very responsive to everybody,'' she said.
Thursday's attack on Northern's nursing program was a rare instance of an organized protest of an academic offering before the regents.
Carrol Krause, acting commissioner of higher education, said his office and the board need to look into the matter because of the surprisingly high student failure rate.
''That is unacceptable,'' he said.
Regent Chairman Richard Roehm said he was concerned about allegations of unfair treatment by instructors and lack of cooperation with Benefis hospital.
Alex Capdeville, Northern's chancellor, said he shared the regents' concerns and promised to be open-minded as the investigation proceeds.
Becky Holden of Havre, one of the nursing students who failed to pass, was one of the most outspoken critics before the board Thursday.
She said she and other students were not given the same opportunity to prepare for a key geriatrics course test as were Northern's nursing students at Great Falls and Lewistown. Instructors on three or four occasions failed to show up for classes, the nursing faculty was rude and Goudie has accused some students of being cheaters and lazy, she said.
''I should be getting a better education for the amount of money I pay,'' she said.
Holden said students fear their outspoken remarks will result in being barred from returning to the program.
Goudie declined to address the specific accusations of Holden and others. But, she said, ''We have a very strong nursing program and I'm proud of it.''