North Carolina has more nursing schools and programs than most states its size. So when Fayetteville State University suspended its Bachelor’s Degree nursing program in 2009, it was a big deal for the state and the school.
Today, the nursing program is open and admitting students. In fact, the first class of graduates have all passed their national board exam.
There's a radio ad playing on Fayetteville's commercial stations.
“Fayetteville State University. FSU is home to one of the top nursing programs in North Carolina and one of the top business schools in the nation.”
The historically Black university has a lot to brag about these days. But just a few years ago, Fayetteville State almost lost its nursing program because students' national test scores were the worst in the state.
“I think the analogy that I used when I first came, was the back of the Titanic was under water," said James Anderson.
Chancellor James Anderson arrived at Fayetteville State in 2008. The country was in a recession and at the same time FSU was struggling to re-build its financial reputation. Anderson says the school was in trouble, especially the nursing program.
Fayetteville State nursing graduates had posted the lowest national test scores of any nursing program in the state.
“So I had to make a tough decision. I went and talked to the NC Nursing Board and asked for their permission. They wanted to close the program down. I asked them to give us a year," said Anderson.
In 2009, the North Carolina Board of Nursing suspended admissions to the Fayetteville State University Pre-licensure Nursing Program and ordered the curriculum redesigned.
“You know sometimes, nursing programs have a trifecta of troubles," said David Kalbacker with the state Nursing Board.
Kalbacker says FSU had neither the best facilities, the best students, nor the best faculty. That’s changed now. The latest national test scores – called the NCLEX – show all of Fayetteville State’s Bachelor of Science in nursing students who took the test during the first quarter of 2015 passed.
“Yes they should be proud they’ve come a long way in a short time. I believe the first quarter of this year, that’s all the data I have currently, shows that 11 students took the exam and 11 students passed it and that’s very good," said Kalbacker.
Four students in the class took the test in December 2014 and also passed.
Crystal Tillman is the Manager of Education and Practice at the state Board of Nursing. She visited the FSU nursing program several times as it re-vamped.
“When you come out with 100% NCLEX pass rate, you are certainly doing something right. And we certainly hope this trend will continue," said Tillman.
Remember that "trifecta" of problems Kalbacker was talking about? They are all pretty much fixed. The school has a new building, new students and new faculty.
Judith Mann is Assistant Chair of Nursing at Fayetteville State and part of the team who built the new program. It may have seemed magical the way the department came together, but Mann says is was hard work.
“Faculty realized and we have said this over and over again, we could not fail. We could not fail. FSU could not fail at this attempt. We owed it to the community. We owed it to the university. And this might have been the last shot at it," said Mann.
And Jennifer Devlin is glad they did. She’s one of the students who passed the nursing exam this year.
“It’s kind of great being able to say that you know, from Fayetteville State University. Because at first, at the beginning of the program it was, oh you’re going to Fayetteville," said Devlin. "Now it’s, oh really, you’re going to Fayetteville? Oh did you know? Of course I know, I graduated from there, yes I do know.”
Still, FSU’s nursing program is tiny compared to the largest in the state at East Carolina University. ECU had 118 students take the national nursing board exam earlier this year, about 10 times as many as Fayetteville State. But FSU administrators say they’re prepared to grow and prove they’re here to stay. The next round of national test scores should be out soon.