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Illinois Wesleyan's nursing program makes changes following probation


Illinois Wesleyan University’s nursing school has received a blow to its reputation, and its accreditation could come into question.

For the second year in a row, IWU has fallen below the minimum 75% passage rate on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Passage last year was 63%. The program has been placed on probation.

“Obviously, we are very unhappy to be in that situation,” said IWU President Georgia Nugent. “This is especially a blow to us because our pass rate has been very high over the last decade.”

There are 132 pre-licensure nursing education programs in Illinois, offering a variety of degrees and advanced degrees overseen by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. There are standalone programs, and those housed at community colleges, undergraduate colleges, and graduate institutions.

Six Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs in Illinois are on probation, according to the state Department of Finance and Professional Regulation. Besides, IWU, they include Illinois College, Rockford University, Roosevelt University, Chicago State University, and Oak Point University.

Four others have received a warning letter for sub-par scores in a single year: Elmhurst College, Millikin University, St. Xavier University, and the University of Illinois Chicago. Three other programs are on probation for a year after raising their pass rates above the minimum.

Programs that have substandard test results receive a warning letter in the first year, probation status in the second year of low performance, and if there is not successful remediation, eventually school closure is possible.

Nugent said the IWU nursing school has taken action to improve student results.

"Our nurses are now engaging in a review course to prepare them for the NCLEX so they are fully prepared when it comes time to take it," she said, adding faculty are changing the curriculum and taking other steps to improve student performance.

The rate of passage on the nursing exam has generally declined for four years, though it had been dependably above the national passage average of 80% (2022) before that.

    Nugent attributed part of the drop to the pandemic.
    “Nationally, experts are saying that it disrupts that very important part of nurses training their clinicals. We experienced that,” said Nugent.

    Other schools also had declines during that period. Nugent said the previous nursing program director also served as chief COVID officer for the campus.

    “Our then-director of the nursing school was also serving as an interim director of our health services. And I think, frankly, that we asked too much of her. She was terrific in guiding us through COVID and really had to devote a great deal of time to that. I think that probably resulted in taking her eye off the ball a little bit in the School of Nursing. It was just a tremendous amount for one person to carry,” said Nugent.

    Nugent said she does not think enrollment will drop because of the blemish of probation.

    "Independent of this issue of the licensure exam, our school of nursing is also evolving into a school of nursing and health sciences because we know that there are many health care fields that students have interest in," said Nugent.

    The expansion announcement happened in March along with the creation of a School of Business and Economics.

    WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.