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Report finds extensive problems with MSU-N program

HELENA - The embattled nursing program at Montana State University-Northern is laced with problems ranging from unqualified teachers and questionable training to a bad attitude pervasive among students, a new report has concluded.

The review, ordered by the state Board of Regents after angry nursing students assailed the program last summer, said ''extensive changes in the overall operation of the College of Nursing'' are needed or it could lose national accreditation.

Problems are extensive and involve the credentials and expertise of faculty and administration, faculty salaries, curriculum and instructional methods, said the report released Monday.

MSU-Northern Chancellor Alex Capdeville said he was ''a little taken aback'' by the findings and was unaware that dissatisfaction among the nursing students was as extensive as the review concluded.

''It's more than just passing the state (nursing) board exam,'' he added. ''Students need to leave this program and feel good about it. Quality is not defined by how many students we fail. A quality program is interaction between faculty and students and good assurance that these students have the knowledge and competency to be good practitioners when they leave here.

''We have a good program,'' Capdeville said. ''We just have to deal with some of those issues.''

The review of the program was conducted by Tina DeLapp, director of the nursing program at the University of Alaska-Anchorage. She was hired to conduct the review because that school has a nursing program similar to Northern's, Capdeville said.

The review was prompted by strong criticism of the program by its students at state Board of Regents meetings in May and July. Students called it alarming that 20 of 49 students failed to graduate last spring and claimed they were unfairly being denied readmission to the program.

Northern officials defended the program as following all the required policies and procedures, and said students were simply unhappy that the grading standards had been raised.

But DeLapp's review found an array of problems, including reliance on unqualified instructors, ''questionable adequacy of the clinical learning experiences available in some sites,'' and use of average test scores as the sole measure for passing.

She said faculty failed to routinely evaluate the curriculum and did not analyze the exams despite the high failure rate.

She also cited a ''pervasive perception of negativity in all aspects of the program by students.''

The report recommended changes in testing procedures, curriculum evaluation, recruitment of faculty from outside the region, more ''humane'' treatment of students, and finding a more qualified dean.

Capdeville said the school has started implementing the suggestions and has a 22-point plan to address the concerns found in the review. It includes increased student access to faculty, training for students in test-taking techniques, enforcing requirements for getting into the nursing program, and using more than tests to determine who passes and fails.

''This doesn't mean everyone's going to pass and we don't have standards,'' Capdeville said. ''Students have to have respect for those standards and we have to have respect for them.''

He noted that Trish Goudie, the target of much of the student criticism, has resigned as dean of the nursing program and taken a leave of absence to finish work on her doctorate. Mary Pappas, a member of the nursing faculty, became interim director of nursing Monday, Capdeville said.


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