The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Department of Nursing has been granted full approval by the Arkansas State Board of Nursing for its pre-licensure program, the final step before accreditation. The approval extends through 2020. These developments come four years after UAPB lost its two nursing programs when the state revoked the licenses in June 2013 because of several chronic problems, including curriculum, materials and student pass rates on mandatory tests.

The UAPB Nursing Department received approval in 2015 from the Arkansas State Board of Nursing to begin offering a bachelor of science in nursing degree, along with an RN-to-BSN program, which allowed those who are already nurses a chance to receive a bachelors degree in the field. UAPB Chancellor Laurence Alexander hailed the administration, faculty and staff for positioning the university for success in its nursing program.

“We had to begin this program literally from scratch,” Alexander, who has a doctorate degree, said. “We were fortunate to hire Diann Williams as chair of the nursing department … She played a key leadership role in helping us to get the program back.”

“We put together a winning proposal for our nursing department for the state board to review, and over the past few years we were able to admit a really fine class of students who came through the program,” he said. “They have also helped us. This year we graduated our first class of pre-licensure bachelor of science in nursing students, which is one of the requirements before accreditation. We are very proud of these accomplishments. They are good for the university, and for the community of Pine Bluff.”

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Jacquelyn McCray also hailed the news.

“The new nursing program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is off to a great start under the able leadership of Mrs. Diann Williams, a highly competent and recognized nurse educator,” McCray, who has a doctorate degree, said. “The university is committed to maintaining the highest standards of excellence in the program and contributing greatly to the supply of practicing BSN nurses in this region of the state. The action of the Arkansas State Board of Nursing signals its confidence that the UAPB Nursing Program will be a major player in addressing this need.”

The department began pursuing ASBN accreditation after bachelor of science in nursing program returned in 2015. Since then, the curriculum has been redeveloped, new faculty and staff were hired, and Nursing Department Chairperson Diann Williams was awarded the first Endowed Nursing Professorship in Rural Health by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Alexander said UAPB should be hearing soon about whether the nursing program will regain accreditation.

“Full approval for the new nursing program is a great achievement,” Williams said. “Since opening the program in fall 2015, faculty and staff have worked diligently for this day. There is excitement and a sense of real accomplishment; however, we continue to take seriously our role and responsibility to our students and communities of interest to maintain the standards of the profession. I look forward to continuing this momentum.”

Williams continued: “The first cohort of students to return to the New UAPB Nursing program were RN-to-BSN track students. The RN-to-BSN program track was approved by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education Coordinating Board and admitted the first cohort of students in January 2015. The RN-to-BSN track does not require approval by the ASBN because students entering the class are already licensed registered nurses.

“The pre-licensure program track received initial approval by the Arkansas State Board of Nursing on July 8, 2015. Initial approval by the ASBN allowed the program to admit the first cohort of students to the prelicensure (generic) track the following month (August 2015). The prelicensure program limited the number of students that were admitted in the first class to 14 students.

“The small class size enabled the program to maintain the ASBN mandated faculty to student ratios and also allowed faculty to continue with program development and evaluation. Simultaneously, the program was also preparing for an accreditation site visit by the Commission on Collegiate Education in Nursing (CCNE). The accreditation site visit took place October 17-19, 2016. The Accreditation decision is still pending.”

Arkansas State Board of Nursing Executive Director Sue Tedford said UAPB has met the conditions set forth by the state board in order to start the process of accreditation.

“That is why they were given full approval,” Tedford said. “They came back as a new program after having been shut down. You do not look at the past history. We will look at pass rates and compliance. Their pass rates used to be low and there were compliance problems.”

Tedford described the news for UAPB as positive.

“This is a very good day for Pine Bluff and particularly UAPB,” Tedford said. “I look forward to them producing quality graduates and help the nursing shortage in Pine Bluff.”

Williams said that “full approval for the new nursing program at UAPB by the ASBN assures that the eight program students who graduated on Saturday will be made eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.”

“The prelicensure program has capacity to admit 24 new junior level prelicensure students each fall” she said.

There are 13 prelicensure students who will matriculate to the senior level in the fall semester. In addition the program has capacity for 15 RN-to-BSN students who enroll in a hybrid curriculum with several web-based courses and practice-based projects for their clinicals.

Admissions for the fall 2017 prelicensure cohort is at capacity, and there are qualified students who have been placed on an alternate list. Should any of the accepted students decide to not come to the UAPB program, an alternate student will be contacted to fill the class seat.

Pine Bluff Commercial managing editor John Worthen contributed to this report.