Nursing higher Ed

Fight over nursing accreditor threatens its future
September 8, 2015 – 08:18 am

Inside The Tasmanian nursing student population: A study of the

The nursing group and the accreditor blame each other for the standoff, in increasingly shrill and accusatory language. Pinpointing the precise motivations for the intransigence is difficult, but money, power and competition are all likely factors.

Nursing educators care less about the reasons for the confounding feud than about its potential implications, which are significant. “It would really be catastrophic for nursing programs like mine to deal with the consequences that would result from all of this, ” said Linda Miles, nursing coordinator at Daytona State College in Florida, where a state law mandates that all nursing programs be accredited by one of the two existing nursing accreditors (see box).

While the dispute is specific to nursing education, the issue is a larger one in the realm of accreditation, where questions are often raised - in teacher education, law and other fields - about whether trade groups and professional societies exert too much control over the regulatory bodies that are supposed to keep them honest.

20 Years of Tension

The dispute between the nursing organizations has a tortured history.

For decades, through the last half of the 20th century, the National League for Nursing was the primary accreditor of nursing programs, in addition to being the main membership organization for nurses in the United States. When Congress renewed the Higher Education Act in 1992, it required accrediting arms of industry or professional groups (like the nursing association) to be “separate and independent” from those groups, to limit conflicts of interest in which the industry groups might exert undue influence on who is accredited, and how rigorously. Professional associations may also focus too much on promoting the profession, potentially forcing institutions to spend more on expanding programs than is appropriate.

Four years later, in 1996, the Education Department's newly created accreditation advisory panel concluded that the nursing league's accrediting arm violated the separate and independent standard. That triggered a series of steps that were designed to fix the problem - but, 20 years later, clearly haven't been, in the department's view.

In 1997, the nursing league transferred its accrediting functions to an entity called the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, and in 2001, the NLNAC (a precursor to what is now known as ACEN) was incorporated as a separate legal entity. While the arrangement sought to keep the two closely intertwined, giving the NLN numerous powers over the new organization (and making it the “principal member” of the new corporation), the nursing association vowed that it would let the accreditor operate independently.

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