HCC reverses course on nursing grads after abc13 investigation

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Houston Community College reversed course Friday, saying that 30 nursing students who passed their courses -- but who had been barred from taking a national nurse exam needed to start their careers -- will now receive the papers they need to take the test.

Earlier this month, HCC brass said that those 30, who make up thirty percent of HCC's spring nursing graduates, including some honors grads, would not be given their affidavits of graduation. Not having that paper prevents them from taking the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse exam.

But starting this morning, HCC began the process of finally giving the affidavits of graduation to students, according to emails the students showed abc13.

The sudden reversal came weeks after an abc13 investigation, a lawsuit filed on the nursing student's behalf and just minutes after Ted Oberg Investigates informed the head of the nursing program that her time ducking questions was over.

See the original Ted Oberg Investigates report here: Nursing students sick over treatment by HCC administrators

Lawyer for the students Keith Gross told abc13 that he believed that HCC carved out such a large chunk of the graduating class to keep them from taking the nursing exam because they feared they might test poorly -- and jeopardize the college's nursing program.

The HCC nursing program has been under a cloud for the past three years because of poor national nursing test scores and probation imposed by the Texas Board of Nursing

At least 80 percent of the students who have received their affidavit of graduation and are allowed to take the national nursing exam must pass that test, or the nursing program will cease to exist.

"HCC administrators were nervous about their own jobs," Gross said. "They were nervous they were going to lose accreditation."

A review of five other Houston-area nursing programs show that none of them had ever kept students who had successfully completed their program from getting an affidavit of graduation.

Dr. Phillip Nicotera, president of HCC's Coleman College for Health Sciences, had previously said that "irregularities in grading" the students' exit exams as the reason for keeping so many nursing students from the exam.

"When we looked at their scores, we believed they were not ready to pass the course," Nicotera said in a previous interview.

HCC changed its tune today.

"After investigating the matter, it was determined that the students' work established program completion requirements, and therefore Affidavits of Graduation confirming this fact were approved this morning by the program director," according to an statement HCC sent to abc13. "The success of our students has, and will always be, our top priority. We wish these students continued success as they begin their profession as nurses."

Gross praised HCC for working through the issue and for quickly finding a solution. He said he will drop the lawsuit. HCC will continue to investigate in to avoid this issue in the future, according to the school.
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