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Nursing Student Dissects Admissions
The system doesn't work...

[Lance T. Izumi] 8/17/05

To address California’s nursing shortage, the new 2005-06 state budget includes $10 million to increase enrollment at community college nursing programs. These added tax dollars, however, fail to address the counterproductive lottery admissions system used by many of the programs. Consider the views of a recent graduate from a community college nursing program in Northern California.

Barbara (not her real name), is a bright and articulate young woman. She had previously earned a bachelor’s degree at a UC campus and served as both president of her college chapter of the national student nursing association and president of her graduating class. Despite her accomplished academic background (most nursing applicants do not possess a bachelor’s degree), Barbara applied three times to nursing programs over a year-and-a-half period.

Lance T. Izumi
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

Lance Izumi is Director of Education Studies for the Pacific Research Institute and
Senior Fellow in California Studies. He is a leading expert in education policy and the author of several major PRI studies. [go to Izumi index]

The program to which she was eventually admitted didn’t consider high grades or other academic indicators, but used a lottery system that put together all the applicants who met mediocre basic GPA benchmarks. Barbara observes that "it’s kind of funny to me that someone can get straight As and their application is looked at just the same as somebody who had a minimum 3.0 in their sciences and a 2.5 in their general education classes."

Because merit isn’t taken into consideration, Barbara points out: "It sends a mixed message that if you do get the minimum requirements, it’s just as good as someone who gets straight As. There isn’t necessarily that drive to be the best they can be and achieve the best they can to reach the goal of getting into the program."

Once in the program, Barbara notes that academically unprepared students had problems passing the required math proficiency exam and had trouble maintaining the required 75 percent average on their course exams. People dropped out during and after each semester of the four-semester program. Further, people left the program because they were not clinically competent to work in a hospital. And the dropout rate in Barbara’s program proved shockingly high.

Out of the 30 or so students who started out, only about 12 finished. She has strong opinions about the high dropout rate:

"The most frustrating part about it is that I had to wait a year and a half to get in and it’s my opinion that there were people that got into the program before I did who weren’t as qualified as myself or who didn’t make it in the program. The way we look at it, that’s a wasted space." She adds "I should already have been practicing as a nurse at least for a year. I would be contributing to [alleviating] the nursing shortage."

Further, the cost of the high dropout rate to taxpayers is substantial. Barbara says "the school and the state are investing new money from the taxpayers into students so that we meet our goals, graduate, and become a part of society as a nurse and be successful at that." She concludes "that this random selection process is not necessarily identifying the most economically sound way of investing our money in the applicants to the nursing program."

While the current system may not have enough spots to meet the demand for nurses, Barbara says "we are not efficiently using the spots we do have available for students to go through the program." The current nursing admissions system, therefore, stands in need of radical surgery. CRO

copyright 2005 Pacific Research Institute



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