For-Profit Nursing Schools Face Ongoing Problems

Stratford University is another for-profit nursing school that has closed due to underperformance and failure to keep its accreditation.
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Andrea Wickstrom, BSN, RN, PHN
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Andrea Wickstrom has 25 years of healthcare experience in various clinical settings. Cardiology has been her primary focus for the past 15 years. She obtained her bachelor of science in nursing and public health nurse certificate at St. Catherine Uni...
Published on August 28, 2023
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Scott Harris has worked as a writer and editor for nearly 25 years, including more than 15 years covering healthcare and higher education. As a senior editor with Red Ventures, Scott currently is a contributing editor at BestColleges and edits the "N...
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  • Stratford University had a history of low NCLEX pass rates and financial troubles.
  • For-profit schools market to students who receive federal financial aid.
  • Nursing students risk losing previously obtained credits, a delayed graduation date, loss of federal financial aid, and the inability to sit for board exams when their school loses accreditation.

Stratford University, a multi-campus, for-profit nursing school based in Virginia, declared bankruptcy in February. The school had long-standing troubles that had escalated in recent years; predominantly, its NCLEX pass rates consistently fell far below the required rate. Eventually, the school had the lowest in the entire state. Stratford also had significant financial problems: laying off staff, late paychecks, and interrupted services.

Coincidently, the university’s accrediting body, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools (ACICS), had been stripped of its authority by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) after it “failed to demonstrate it could effectively evaluate, monitor, and enforce quality standards for schools.”

While on probation, the Virginia Board of Nursing gave Stratford 18 months to find another accrediting agency. However, their probation stipulated that they were not allowed any new enrollments at the school.

Stratford, based in the diverse Washington, D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia, is just one example of an ongoing trend of for-profit nursing schools that closed amid scrutiny over business practices and chronic underperformance in the classroom.

An Ongoing Trend

The promises of for-profit colleges and universities can appeal to those needing a fast and flexible degree program. These schools tend to target students who qualify for federal financial aid, which is guaranteed income for the school. Ultimately, many nursing students enter the programs unqualified and underprepared.

Data shows that for-profit nursing schools are known to have substantially lower NCLEX pass rates than not-for-profit schools. Most state and public colleges have one or more years-long waiting lists, but new students are enrolled every semester at for-profit schools.

Stratford nursing school isn’t the only nursing school under the microscope. Earlier this year, Stone Academy in Connecticut abruptly ceased operations amid two state investigations.

In 2023, Bay State College in Massachusetts, the last for-profit college in the state, also lost its accreditation and appeal. Though not exclusively a nursing school, its nursing program had successful graduates and rigorous coursework. Bay State was proud of its NCLEX scores, employment outcomes, and students who continued to pursue advanced degrees. The students also appreciated the dedication of the nursing instructors. However, transferring credits to new schools is difficult after closure, and the students stand to lose thousands of dollars and hard work.

Why do these schools tend to end up in hot water in the first place? The increased demand for nurses and the exuberant promises can bring enrollment and money in droves, but often, the execution has not lived up to the promise.

Stratford's Ongoing Problems

Stratford had a long history of troubles. The school nearly lost accreditation in 2016, but the ED overturned it. However, difficulties continued.

Students began complaining to the Virginia Board of Nursing (BON) back in 2021. They disclosed several concerns with the school and nursing program, including its low NCLEX pass rates. Mostly, they feared losing financial aid and the ability to sit for their NCLEX exam if the school lost its accreditation.

Although there was a national decrease in school pass rates during the pandemic, Stratford’s plummeted. An 80% pass rate is required to remain accredited. In 2020, two of Stratford's campuses had an average NCLEX pass rate of 69.7% and 51.9%, dropping 30% from the previous year. The BON attributed Stratford’s decrease to the pandemic as well.

Other student accusations included grade inflation by grading on a curve and averaging second chance open book tests when only three out of thirty students passed a test. Also, only one of their four mannequins worked, so students were told to “pretend” practice skills. In addition, students experienced lapses in campus Wi-Fi and were instructed to clean up after themselves when custodial staff was no longer available.

Though promised many clinical rotation site opportunities, actual placements were scarce. When the students could not secure a spot, the lecture class paired with clinicals had to be delayed until the next term. Mostly, clinicals were at nursing homes, where they only did vital signs.

Despite the multiple red flags involving performance and finances, leadership repeatedly assured the students that the school was not closing. "They were scrambling to keep up the illusion that things were okay," student Amethyst Whitaker commented in her interview with MedpageToday. “In hindsight, the warning signs were everywhere.”

Chamberlain University, another for-profit school, welcomed applications from Stratford’s 350 displaced students into their nursing program with expedited applications and waived enrollment fees. However, some students reported they would not risk attending another for-profit school and opted to transfer to public or private schools.

If you are concerned about your school’s status and what to do if it closes, helpful information is available.