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Former Roxbury Community College Nursing Students Frustrated By Options After Program Loses State Approval 04:27
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Krystle Callender is a medical assistant at Pearl Street Medical Center in Brockton. She only needed two more semesters of classes at Roxbury Community College to complete her degree. In order to get her license, she will need to start over at another school. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Krystle Callender is a medical assistant at Pearl Street Medical Center in Brockton. She only needed two more semesters of classes at Roxbury Community College to complete her degree. In order to get her license, she will need to start over at another school. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Krystle Callender is a single parent. She lives in Brockton and works full time as a medical assistant. She said becoming a nurse was part of her life plan: finish school, get a nursing job, then, hopefully, buy a house one day.

"There aren't many programs for working people like myself that want to get their lives on a better track," she said.

Which is why the Roxbury Community College (RCC) nursing program felt like a good fit. It wasn’t too far away from home and they offered evening and weekend classes. She said she was also drawn to RCC because of the community. The school serves a large number of low income students and people of color. She added she was proud to go to there.

"I was like, 'Oh my god there’s a school in my community where there’s people like me there working,' " she said.

But earlier this summer, Callender's plans of graduating with an associate's degree in nursing from RCC had to be rerouted. The state Board of Registration in Nursing (BORN) withdrew its approval of the program in June, citing low passage rates on the national nursing exam and lack of stability in academic leadership.

Callender was a quarter of the way through the program when she learned she wouldn’t be able to take classes there anymore. She got the news through a group text message during a biology class.

She said she had known about the program's warning status from BORN. The school's recruiters also mentioned the issue before she enrolled. But Callender said officials told her the warning was mostly related to staffing levels, something they were working to fix.

"So, for me, it was like, 'Oh this is great. Just staffing. That's nothing.' "

Officials with RCC say they have always been transparent about their status with prospective students. A message about BORN's warning was posted on their application and recruiters were instructed to disclose the information to every potential student. Still, the news took Callender and several of her classmates by surprise.

"Now I feel like I’m at a standstill," she explained.

RCC will be allowed to conduct nursing classes until the end of the year for students who are close to finishing their coursework and want to sit for the national nursing licensing exam known as the NCLEX. School officials say about 40 people are planning to enroll.

But Callender and about three dozen other students who were newer to the associate's degree program won't have that option. If they wanted to become an RN, they have to find a new school.

For Callender, that's been a confusing process. While RCC officials did offer students the chance to meet one-on-one to talk about transfer options, Callender and fellow nursing student Janice Buziak-Smith said none of those other programs felt like a good fit.

RCC leadership said they’re working hard with area colleges to make the transition for impacted students easier. So far, UMass Boston, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Quincy College and Middlesex Community College have agreed to work with RCC to help this group of nursing students transfer with as few roadblocks and as many credits as possible.

But Buziak-Smith explained these options won't work for her.

"I have a job. I have a small child and I’m still paying off student loans from my first degree," she said. "I [told RCC], we are in a two-year community college program evening-option. And you’re giving us four-year, private school and day-program transfer options."

She added even if she did go with one of the recommended options, she’d still be worried.

"I want to make sure if I go to another evening community college evening option that it's not going to close," she said.

Two of the schools with transfer agreements also have a history of issues with the state board. Quincy College’s nursing program lost approval last year and was only recently re-certified by the state. And while the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is in good standing now, it was also flagged with a warning back in 2017.

Judith Pare, the director of education with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, recommends that if students want to avoid getting stuck in a limbo like this, they should consider schools like they do any big purchase.

"You need to go on social media, you need to check websites, and you need to look at reviews," she said. "Are there any [BORN] actions against that college?"

In a written statement, officials with RCC say fixing the issues raised by the Board of Registration in Nursing and regaining approval is a top priority.

For student Callender, getting a nursing degree is still her top priority. She’s planning to take some general education classes at Massasoit Community College this fall before officially applying for that nursing program in 2020.

"It’s looking like the only option for me at this time," she said. "I’m just going to think positive and apply and see where I can go from there."

Her classmate Buziak-Smith said, for now, she’s giving up on trying to be a nurse.

This segment aired on August 20, 2019.

Earlier Coverage:

Carrie Jung Twitter Reporter, Edify
Carrie is a senior education reporter with Edify.

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