Setting the Standard for Nursing Education

Sharon J. Tanner, EdD, RN
Chief Executive Officer, National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission

This column provides information on accreditation for nursing programs of all types. Readers may submit questions to the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. General questions of interest to a wide audience will be addressed in this column while more specific questions or those requiring confidentiality will be answered directly.

At a recent Self-Study Forum, there were a number of questions about the Accreditation Standards and Criteria, particularly how they were developed and implemented. In this edition, I will share the most commonly asked questions from that meeting along with questions received via the NLNAC website about this important process. The questions are timely as NLNAC is currently undergoing the review process for the current Standards and Criteria, which were published in January 2008. By policy, the Standards are thoroughly reviewed every five (5) years through a peer-led process that engages all constituents. The next revision of the Standards is scheduled to be finalized and published in January 2013, so volunteers are now actively involved in the development and review process and will continue this work throughout 2012. From January to late fall, your colleagues who have graciously volunteered their expertise and their time will be engaged in an exhaustive examination of research, data, and current perspectives related to nursing education. In addition, the subcommittee members will ensure compliance with the Regulations of the United States Department of Education (USDOE) and the Recognition Standards of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as NLNAC is recognized by both agencies, the only nursing accrediting agency to hold this dual recognition.

Q: Please describe the process for the development of the Accreditation Standards. What assurances do we as faculty have that the Standards reflect current guidelines and best practices?

A: The Accreditation Standards and Criteria are developed entirely by volunteers from accredited programs along with colleagues actively engaged in contemporary clinical practice in various settings. A call for volunteers was issued in Fall 2011 to all accredited programs and constituents seeking those with expertise in both nursing education from all program types and experts in clinical practice from diverse settings. From the hundreds of volunteers, individuals were selected based on expertise in a nursing program type, understanding of accreditation, willingness to review current professional guidelines and standards, and willingness to engage in dialogue related to best practices in nursing education. Geographical location was an additional factor considered in the selection of the individuals to serve on the Accreditation Subcommittees. It is essential that programs from all sizes and types of governing organizations (private, public, religious-affiliated, etc.) be represented as well as all regions of the country in this important work.

A subcommittee was appointed for each of the six program types: practical, diploma, associate, baccalaureate, master’s, and clinical doctorate. Each subcommittee includes representatives from both nursing education and practice. The volunteers were presented with an extensive array of literature, research, and current commentary on nursing education and practice to review. The subcommittees were assigned the task of review of the current Standards and Criteria along with the data from the accreditation cycles in which the Standards had been used. Also, the NLNAC maintains documentation related to frequent questions/concerns pertaining to the Standards and Criteria as identified by the nursing programs. This feedback specific to the application of the Standards is invaluable from the beginning of the process in the drafting of the new Standards.

Q: As a nursing faculty member, how can I have input into the Standards? There are certain Criteria that I believe could be more clearly stated, and I would like to know how to submit my concerns. Is there an opportunity for this?

A: Absolutely there is an opportunity for input into the development of the Standards. There are two periods during the review process for comments. During the 2007 process, NLNAC received more than 2,000 comments from nurse educators, administrators, clinicians, students, and members of the general public. The comment periods are widely announced, and the draft versions are available online such that interested constituents may comment on only one Criterion or as many as they choose. Each individual is asked to identify his/herself by category (faculty, administrator, student, etc.) but not by name. Comments can be made in a narrative format such that the reviewer can formulate questions, make recommendations, or offer forth suggestions for language. The comments received undergo a thorough analysis by the subcommittees, particularly the comments related to verbiage. As an example, if a term or phrase spurs comments from several constituents, the subcommittee members will use the comments in developing the second phase or draft of the Standards. In the 2007 process, comments guided the revisions that occurred between the first version of the Standards and the final version that was developed. All comments received are reviewed and included in the analysis phase of the process.

Q: When the 2008 Standards were published, the faculty and I were disappointed to see that the faculty credential requirements for some of the program types had been changed, and in fact, lowered. A master’s in nursing was no longer required for all faculty for our particular nursing program type. Will this be changed with the new Standards?

A: As you might imagine, requirements for faculty credentials, both academic and experiential, generate diverse opinions among programs, particularly in states that have not required master’s degrees for faculty or held expectations for those teaching in entry-level programs to hold a graduate credential. It is true that for part-time faculty in some programs as well as full-time and part-time faculty in practical programs, the requirements were changed. This was based on the review of programs, research, data, and state requirements along with national guidelines from other nursing organizations. While these were some programs that praised the change and felt that the change reflected the current climate in nursing education, others did not welcome the change and stated that accreditation should reflect the highest standards and best practices. You and your faculty, along with colleagues, should carefully review the draft Standards and be sure to offer your recommendations. Your input is integral to ensuring that the Accreditation Standards and Criteria continue to set the national standard and that the faculty engaged in classroom and clinical teaching hold the appropriate credentials to make certain that all graduates from all program types are prepared to practice safely and competently.

This is a non-final version of an article published in final form
in the NURSE EDUCATOR Journal.
January/February 2012 Vol.37, No.1, pp. 1-2