Contributed Article By Lori Dugan
THATCHER – Eastern Arizona College’s Nursing Department took on the task of seeking national accreditation for its program early last year. Accreditation is a process of validation by which colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning are evaluated. The standards for accreditation are set by a peer review board whose members include faculty from various accredited colleges and universities.
Carolyn McCormies, EAC’s director of nursing, contacted the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), one of only two accrediting bodies who accredits associate degree nursing programs in the nation, to begin the process and apply for candidacy.
“Just that part alone was a huge undertaking but it was also one of the most valuable parts of the whole process because it really began to sharpen our focus on how we could improve our program even more,” McCormies said.
Once EAC was accepted to apply for accreditation the real work began. First was the self-study, a tool often used in higher education to help monitor and improve systems.
“The tricky part about the self-study was that we had this huge list of items to address and a limit of only 200 pages to address them,” McCormies said. “Our self-study ended up being 195 pages plus a 50-page ‘Systematic Evaluation Plan’ that we will use in the future to improve our program and document our progress.”
In February, 2016, (way ahead of schedule) a site visit was scheduled to coincide with an ongoing approval visit from the Arizona State Board of Nursing. Nursing educators from institutions in Maine, New Mexico, Idaho and Utah came to campus for an intensive three-day evaluation. While they were here, they interviewed EAC President Mark Bryce, Executive Vice President Brent McEuen, the deans from all three EAC campuses (Thatcher, Globe and Payson), all the nursing and clinical faculty, general education faculty, the librarians at all three campuses and 46 EAC nursing students. They also visited all three campuses, observed some student clinical experiences and held a public meeting inviting feedback from the community.
While they were here, they conducted a document review of the college’s catalog, handbook, strategic plan, Higher Learning Commission reports, salary schedules, articulation agreements, contracts, faculty vitae and verified all faculty licenses.
All of the pieces – the pre-qualifying application, self-study, strategic evaluation plan and site visit all came together to ensure that EAC meets or exceeds the 51 elements that compose ACEN’s six standards of excellence.
“ACEN accreditation is a symbol of excellence that assists our students in continuing their educational goals by making their nursing credits more universally transferable and helping them to more easily find positions upon graduation,” McCormies said.
“Achieving national accreditation has been a goal of mine for many years,” McCormies said. “It is a remarkable accomplishment that will benefit every nursing graduate and strengthen our program. With accreditation we are making a commitment to ongoing evaluation and improvement. I am grateful for an amazing group of faculty and administration that made it possible to attain this difficult accomplishment and I am especially grateful to EAC Nursing Instructor, Shalay Haynie, who was shoulder-to-shoulder with me compiling reports, scheduling visits and facilitating a successful site visit to make this dream a reality.”
“We would also like to thank our local partners: Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center, Payson Regional Medical Center and Cobre Valley Community Hospital for its continued support of our nursing program and for their contributions to excellence in nursing education,” Dr. Phil McBride, EAC’s dean of instruction and editor of the self-study, said.
EAC’s nursing program currently enrolls 158 students among the three campuses in Thatcher, Globe and Payson. To find out more about EAC’s nationally accredited nursing program contact McCormies at (928) 428-8324 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.