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Two of Utah's two-year programs that train registered nurses are struggling to keep their graduates' pass rates up to par on licensing exams, according to state regulators at the Department of Commerce.

Broadview University, the for-profit West Jordan school formerly known as Utah Career College, is no longer accepting nursing students. For seven straight quarters, its student pass rates for the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, fell below the national average.

Also on notice to improve its nursing graduates' NCLEX pass rates is Stevens Henager College, a multicampus Utah school that operates a nursing program in West Haven.

These two are hardly the only Utah nursing programs with unacceptable pass rates for NCLEX, the exam graduates must pass before working as registered nurses.

But Broadview and Stevens Henager have recently signed deals with the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL), obligating them to raise their pass rates to within 5 percentage points of the national average.

While school officials challenge the fairness of the rules, failure to meet the threshold could cost them their ability to operate nursing programs.

Pressure to pass • Utah's pass rate percentages are typically in the upper 80s and lower 90s, almost always in line with the current national average. Under DOPL rules, programs are in violation if their pass rates remain five points below the average for three quarters in a two-year period.

Stevens Henager administrator Vicky Dewsnup contends the quarterly reporting requirement is not fair to smaller programs, and notes few states have such a rule.

"You live and breathe by your NCLEX pass rates. In programs that have cohorts of 10 students, they may have two kids not pass and that will reduce your rate to 80 percent," said Dewsnup, who believes the pass rates should be reported annually.

In 2011, 33 of Henager's 42 nursing graduates passed NCLEX for a pass rate of 78.6 percent, nearly 10 points below the national average that year. But the year before the school's rate was 4.4 points higher than the national average.

Three times a year, Henager takes on new cohorts of between 15 and 20 students.

Last quarter, three new graduates chose to take NCLEX "cold," or without preparing, Dewsnup said, and only one passed, giving the school a miserable 33 percent pass rate — based on the failure of just two students.

The school now requires its students to pass an exam administered by the testing firm ATI. For those who pass, Henager releases their transcripts so they can move on to the licensure exam. Those who fail must follow a "remediation plan" until they can pass ATI.

For Broadview, the issue appears to be moot because another for-profit school, Draper-based AmeriTech College, has agreed to complete the training for 29 of Broadview's remaining nursing students.

In August, Broadview officials told state regulators it was shutting down its nursing program, citing "a lack of resources" shortly after many of its faculty quit. A small group of Broadview students nearing graduation will be allowed to wrap up their studies this fall at the West Jordan school.

Increasing demand, challenges • Because of high demand for nursing instruction and limited spots at Utah's big public two-year schools, such as Utah Valley University and Salt Lake Community College, numerous for-profit schools have started programs to train RNs.

Most Utah programs, including the two facing disciplinary action, are accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, or NLNAC.

The state's eight for-profit programs graduated 252 students last year who passed the NCLEX. That number is sure to grow as these programs become more established. Everest College in West Valley City, Fortis College in Salt Lake City, Eagle Gate College with campuses in Murray and Layton, and Nightingale College in Ogden are now training students while seeking accreditation, according to nursing board records.

NLNAC recently denied Eagle Gate's application but has allowed it to re-apply for accreditation, while Everest failed to apply properly. Everest is now seeking accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education instead.

Even with national accreditation, the for-profit programs could pose unanticipated problems for aspiring nurses.

These two-year programs cost substantially more than their public counterparts — often in excess of $40,000. Their credits and degrees are not readily transferable to a traditional university because the for-profit schools typically lack regional accreditation. Another limiting factor: finding the clinical placements that give them real-world experience. Schools rely on providers to offer spots and have little control over access to them.

AmeriTech recently informed the state Board of Nursing that it cannot find clinical placements for its former Broadview students because Intermountain Healthcare has reduced its spots for nursing students. Had the college known placements would become scarce, it would not have agreed to take on Broadview's students, program administrator Julie Aiken told the board.