State nursing board officials say the Salem school whose nursing program was shut down last month had been on a state watch list for several years.
First Choice Training Institute’s licensed practical nursing program was first accepted by the New Hampshire Board of Nursing in 2005, but was quickly placed on conditional approval in 2006, after students reported low test scores, according to Margaret Walker, executive director of the New Hampshire Board of Nursing.
In the years that followed, Walker said First Choice staff put together several action plans to bring up student scores – including using practice tests, increasing attendance requirements and providing more intense proctoring of exams.
“They blamed the students rather than seeing that it was their responsibility to maintain the right milieu for students to be successful,” Walker said on Aug. 31. “And I think these are a pretty fine group of students, so the whole thing is unfortunate.”
Walker said none of the school’s strategies seemed to work.
“First Choice had a series of directors, and they would leave, and we would have to start all over again,” Walker said. “If anything, we probably took longer in closing them than the rules say, but we kept giving them chances.”
Finally, she said, the board had enough.
“The board said, we simply can’t go on with this because we’re wasting students’ money,” she said.
First Choice began an 11- month-long nursing course in May, September and December of each year, Walker said, with each course attracting between 17 and 20 students. Course fees are about $16,000, she said.
According to its website, the school also offers other training programs for medical assistants.
On July 15, the board officially revoked approval for the First Choice nursing program and later denied the school’s request for a rehearing on Aug. 19.
During that time, Walker said, the school continued holding nursing classes at its 19 Keewaydin Drive location, even after the board issued a cease-and-desist letter. Classes were finally stopped on Aug. 30, she said.
Walker said the New Hampshire Postsecondary Education Commission is currently working with students to secure tuition refunds. In 2006, Walker said the state nursing board became more selective in accepting nursing programs, requiring an affiliation with a body of higher learning and a national accreditation.
Under those new rules, Walker said it is unlikely that First Choice’s nursing program would have been accepted in the state, but that it beat those new requirements by one year when it opened in 2005.
The school first opened in New Hampshire after its nursing program was rejected in Massachusetts, she said.
In the past, Walker said the New Hampshire nursing board has had to close other nursing programs after owners stole student money.
But a case like this is rare, she said, because it is so closely tied to poor academic standards.
“This is a very strange circumstance,” she said. “It’s just quite different from what we’ve had before.”
Calls to First Choice Training Institute were not returned.