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U.S. Department of Education

Staff Report
to the
Senior Department Official
on
Recognition Compliance Issues

RECOMMENDATION PAGE

1.
Agency:   Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (1952/2016)
                  (The dates provided are the date of initial listing as a recognized agency and the date of the agency’s last grant of recognition.)
 
2.
Action Item:   Other Report
 
3.
Current Scope of Recognition:   Accreditation of nursing education programs and schools, both postsecondary and higher degree, which offer a certificate, diploma, or a recognized professional degree including clinical doctorate, masters, baccalaureate, associate, diploma, and practical nursing programs in the United States and its territories, including those offered via distance education.
 
4.
Requested Scope of Recognition:   Same as above
 
5.
Date of Advisory Committee Meeting:   December, 2015
 
6.
Staff Recommendation:   Renew the agency's recognition for one and one- half year
 
7.
Issues or Problems:   None


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 
 

PART I: GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE AGENCY

 
The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (formally the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC)) is a national programmatic accrediting agency for postsecondary and higher degree nursing education programs. Its current scope of recognition is for the accreditation in the United States of programs in practical nursing, and diploma, associate, baccalaureate and higher degree nurse education programs, including those offered via distance education.

The agency’s accreditation is a required element enabling some of its practical nursing and all of its hospital diploma programs to establish eligibility to participate in the Title IV, HEA programs. Consequently, the agency must meet the requirements under the separate/independent provisions of the regulations, or must seek and receive a waiver of those requirements.

 
 
Recognition History
 
The National League for Nursing, precursor to the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN/National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC), was first recognized as a national accrediting agency in 1952 for the accreditation of associate, baccalaureate, and higher degree nurse education programs. Its scope was later expanded to include diploma and practical nursing programs. Prior to the 1997 meeting, the accrediting functions of the National League for Nursing were formally transferred to the ACEN/NLNAC.

The agency was reviewed again by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) at its December 2006 meeting. The agency initially requested an expansion of scope for distance education, but withdrew the request in October 2006. At the December meeting, the NACIQI determined that the agency was in full compliance with the Secretary’s criteria. The Secretary agreed with the NACIQI recommendation, and the agency was granted a five-year period of recognition. In June of 2008 the agency again appeared before the NACIQI for an expansion of scope to include distance education and was granted the request.

At the NACIQI Spring 2012 meeting the National Advisory Committee recommended to grant the agency's request to expand its scope to include the accreditation of clinical doctorate educational programs. It also recommended to continue the agency's recognition and require the agency to come into compliance within 12 months, and to submit a compliance report that demonstrates the agency's compliance with the following issues:

•The agency must demonstrate that it satisfies the "separate and independent requirements" (see 602.14(b)). [602.14(a)]

•The agency must revise its bylaws to be compliant with the Secretary's "separate and independent" definition. [602.14(b)]

•The agency must provide further information and documentation regarding training it provides for public representatives serving on its appeals panel on the agency’s standards, policies and procedures. [602.15(a)(2)]

•The agency must amend its definition of distance education to include that technology is used to support regular and substantive interaction between the instructor and the students. [602.16(b)(c)]

•The agency must clearly define in its substantive change policy under what conditions/situations it would require a program to undergo a new comprehensive evaluation and provide documentation of its application of its policy. [602.22(a)(3)]

•The agency must amend its policy to include that, in the absence of official comments from the program; the agency will provide evidence that the affect program was offered the opportunity to provide official comment. The agency must also provide documentation of its timely provision of the brief statement and program's comments to the Secretary, the appropriate state licensing agency and the public. [602.26(d)]

At the NACIQI's June 2014 meeting. ACEN's report was incomplete. However, NACIQI granted an extension of its recognition, for good cause, for a period of six months and was required to submit a report demonstrating its compliance with the "separate and independent requirements" (602.14(b)). [602.14(a)] and, revise its bylaws to be compliant with the Secretary's "separate and independent" definition. [602.14(b)] within 30 days of expiration of the six-month period, with reconsideration of recognition status thereafter, including review of the report and appearance by the agency at a NACIQI June2015 meeting.. The agency's report was required to include a completed plan and timeline toward achieving full compliance, any agreements made between ACEN and NLN that have been developed, and bylaws addressing the deficiencies under 600.14(a) and (b) which precluded NLN involvement and the impingement on the agency’s independence going forward.

The NACIQI reviewed ACEN's compliance report at it June 2015 meeting and as noted in the compliance report, ACEN compliance would have been achieved but for the nullification of the amendments to the certificate of incorporation and bylaws resulting from the agency's apparent violation of New York law. In the absence of lawful revisions to the documents in question conforming them to the separate and independent requirements the Department could not t find ACEN in compliance,and recommended to the NACIQI that the agency's recognition be terminated.

Based on the NACIQI's evaluation of the agency's issues and responses to the Department's concern's it recommended the adoption of the staff report recommendation that ACEN be found not to meet the requirements of recognition, specifically the requirements that it be "separate and independent" as required by 34 CFR Section 602.14(a) and (b). NACIQI's recommendation also included the suggestion that the record remain open for a period of three months to allow supplementation with new information.

The review of supplemental information requested by NACIQI's which was provided to the Department and a request by the Assistant Secretary of Postsecondary Education that the Department review that information is the subject of this report.

The Department received no complaints this recognition cycle regarding this agency's accreditation activities







PART II: SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

 
§602.14 Purpose and organization

(a) The Secretary recognizes only the following four categories of agencies:

The Secretary recognizes...

(1) An accrediting agency

(i) Has a voluntary membership of institutions of higher education;

(ii) Has as a principal purpose the accrediting of institutions of higher education and that accreditation is a required element in enabling those institutions to participate in HEA programs; and

(iii) Satisfies the "separate and independent" requirements in paragraph (b) of this section.

(2) An accrediting agency

(i) Has a voluntary membership; and

(ii) Has as its principal purpose the accrediting of higher education programs, or higher education programs and institutions of higher education, and that accreditation is a required element in enabling those entities to participate in non-HEA Federal programs.

(3) An accrediting agency for purposes of determining eligibility for Title IV, HEA programs--

(i) Either has a voluntary membership of individuals participating in a profession or has as its principal purpose the accrediting of programs within institutions that are accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency; and

(ii) Either satisfies the "separate and independent" requirements in paragraph (b) of this section or obtains a waiver of those requirements under paragraphs (d) and (e) of this section.

(4) A State agency

(i) Has as a principal purpose the accrediting of institutions of higher education, higher education programs, or both; and

(ii) The Secretary listed as a nationally recognized accrediting agency on or before October 1, 1991 and has recognized continuously since that date.

 
At the June 25-26, 2015 meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), NACIQI recommended the adoption of the staff report recommendation that the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) be found not to meet the requirements of recognition, specifically the requirement that it be "separate and independent" as required by 34 C.F.R § 602.14(a) and (b). NACIQI's recommendation also included the suggestion that the record remain open for a period of three months to allow supplementation with new information.

On or about August 13, 2015, the Assistant Secretary (as the Senior Department Official) received information relating to the recognition status of ACEN. This information was received from Dr. Belle S. Wheelan, President of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Dr. Wheelan transmitted various documents: Changes to the Certificate of Incorporation for ACEN (dated August 10, 2015); amended ACEN Bylaws (effective August 12, 2015); and the Mutual Agreement and Assurances between the National League for Nursing (NLN) and ACEN (signed by representatives of NLN and ACEN on August 6, 2015 and August 12, 2015 respectively). A copy of Dr. Wheelan's cover letter and the enclosures are attached.

The Assistant Secretary determined that pursuant to 34 C.F.R § 602.36(h), the information submitted by Dr. Wheelan could not have been submitted previously, because ACEN and NLN did not reach agreement on ACEN' s new bylaws until August 2015. The Assistant Secretary also determined that the information regarding the bylaws would be relevant and material to her decision on recognition, within the meaning of 34 C.F.R § 602.36(g), because it may be determinative of the issue of whether ACEN is separate and independent. Therefore, the Assistant Secretary concluded that her decision on recognition should not be made without consideration of the information submitted by Dr. Wheelan. Accordingly, pursuant to 34 C.F.R § 602.36(g)(1)(ii), the Assistant Secretary referred the matter, with the record supplemented by the information submitted by Dr. Wheelan, to Department staff for review and analysis under 34 C.F.R § 602.32, and for consideration by NACIQI under 34 C.F.R. § 602.34.

The staff has analyzed the information provided by Dr. Wheelan (i.e., amended Certificate of Incorporation, Amended Bylaws, and Mutual Agreement and Assurances), and based on that documentation, the staff has concluded that ACEN is now in compliance with 34 C.F.R. § 602.14(a) and (b).
 

(b) For purposes of this section, the term separate and independent means that--
(1) The members of the agency's decision-making body--who decide the accreditation or preaccreditation status of institutions or programs, establish the agency's accreditation policies, or both--are not elected or selected by the board or chief executive officer of any related, associated, or affiliated trade association or membership organization;

(2) At least one member of the agency's decision-making body is a representative of the public, and at least one-seventh of that body consists of representatives of the public;

(3) The agency has established and implemented guidelines for each member of the decision-making body to avoid conflicts of interest in making decisions;

(4) The agency's dues are paid separately from any dues paid to any related, associated, or affiliated trade association or membership organization; and

(5) The agency develops and determines its own budget, with no review by or consultation with any other entity or organization.

 
At the June 25-26, 2015 meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), NACIQI recommended the adoption of the staff report recommendation that the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) be found not to meet the requirements of recognition, specifically the requirement that it be "separate and independent" as required by 34 C.F.R § 602.14(a) and (b). NACIQI's recommendation also included the suggestion that the record remain open for a period of three months to allow supplementation with new information.

On or about August 13, 2015, the Assistant Secretary (as the Senior Department Official) received information relating to the recognition status of ACEN. This information was received from Dr. Belle S. Wheelan, President of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Dr. Wheelan transmitted various documents: Changes to the Certificate of Incorporation for ACEN (dated August 10, 2015); amended ACEN Bylaws (effective August 12, 2015); and the Mutual Agreement and Assurances between the National League for Nursing (NLN) and ACEN (signed by representatives of NLN and ACEN on August 6, 2015 and August 12, 2015 respectively). A copy of Dr. Wheelan's cover letter and the enclosures are attached.

The Assistant Secretary determined that pursuant to 34 C.F.R § 602.36(h), the information submitted by Dr. Wheelan could not have been submitted previously, because ACEN and NLN did not reach agreement on ACEN' s new bylaws until August 2015. The Assistant Secretary also determined that the information regarding the bylaws would be relevant and material to her decision on recognition, within the meaning of 34 C.F.R § 602.36(g), because it may be determinative of the issue of whether ACEN is separate and independent. Therefore, the Assistant Secretary concluded that her decision on recognition should not be made without consideration of the information submitted by Dr. Wheelan. Accordingly, pursuant to 34 C.F.R § 602.36(g)(1)(ii), the Assistant Secretary referred the matter, with the record supplemented by the information submitted by Dr. Wheelan, to Department staff for review and analysis under 34 C.F.R § 602.32, and for consideration by NACIQI under 34 C.F.R. § 602.34.

The staff has analyzed the information provided by Dr. Wheelan (i.e., amended Certificate of Incorporation, Amended Bylaws, and Mutual Agreement and Assurances), and based on that documentation, the staff has concluded that ACEN is now in compliance with 34 C.F.R. § 602.14(a) and (b).
 
 

PART III: THIRD PARTY COMMENTS

 
The Department did not receive any written third-party comments regarding this agency.