Insights on Accreditation – November/December 2011

The Changing Nursing Education Landscape

Sharon J. Tanner, EdD, RN  Chief Executive Officer, National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission

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This column provides information on accreditation for nursing programs of all types. Nurse educators may submit questions to the NLNAC. General questions of interest to a wide audience will be addressed in this column while more specific questions or those requiring confidentiality will be answered directly.

The NLNAC has been honored to participate in the ongoing work of the Consensus Model for APRN Regulation: Licensure, Accreditation, Certification, and Education. For the past five years, we have regularly attended the meetings during which the Model was finalized, and we are pleased to be one of the many national nursing organizations that have endorsed the Model. A copy of the Model is available on our website ( As implementation draws nearer, there have been numerous questions from accredited programs with concerns related to changes in requirements or policies affecting master’s or doctoral programs preparing advanced practice nurses. Two of the most frequently heard questions are included here.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]Currently, we have an accredited master’s program with family nurse practitioner, nursing education, and nursing administration tracks. The program has been accredited for several years and was most recently reviewed by the NLNAC in 2009. There is interest among our faculty and support from our administration to offer a new track for pediatric nurse practitioners by 2013. We have surveyed our communities of interest, worked with our Advisory Council, and sought approval of our University’s Academic Council. However, we are concerned about how to move forward in relation to accreditation. As we read the Consensus Model, it appears we must seek approval from the NLNAC prior to accepting students. Is this correct?

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]Yes, you are correct. In the Model, you will see that approval by your accrediting agency is required earlier in the review process than has been true in the past. As you are now in the planning stages of this new program option, I would encourage you to seek our guidance soon in terms of the documents that will be needed for you to begin the process of expanding your master’s program. As your accrediting agency, we want to assure potential students that the program of study meets national professional standards and guidelines such that graduates will be eligible to sit for the certification examination and meet regulatory requirements in terms of licensure. I would encourage you and your faculty to review information related to the implementation of the Model and the various changes that will occur in accreditation, certification, and regulation as we move towards the 2015 goal. The NLNAC will provide regular communications so that you and your colleagues will be fully informed for all of the master’s program options, not just the new track being considered.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]I am the Curriculum Coordinator for our master’s program. Recently, we were approved by our College and state to begin a clinical doctorate program in 2013 which will include two advanced practice options. At present, we are undecided about retaining our master’s program. Certainly, we will not be closing the program for at least 2-3 more years and may retain the program or most likely some of the tracks long-term. How do we go about seeking accreditation for the DNP program? We understand that there is a Candidacy process, but we have seen that pre-accreditation is mentioned in the Consensus Model. Does NLNAC require pre-accreditation for CNS tracks?

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]You and your colleagues are making decisions commonly being addressed by many graduate programs. Whether or not you retain the master’s program, you are asking appropriate questions about the new clinical doctorate program. Also, you are correct in stating that the process for pre-approval or pre-accreditation will change when the Model is implemented. However, we are encouraging programs planning new tracks to seek guidance now rather than waiting until 2015. You will note that the nursing professionals from regulation, accreditation, education, and certification who worked to develop the Model elected to allow pre-approval processes or pre-accreditation reviews to be utilized by the nursing accrediting agencies for new programs. What this means for your program is that in advance of accepting students, you will undergo review through NLNAC Candidacy. The NLNAC professional staff member who works with programs seeking initial accreditation will mentor and guide you through the process. We welcome the opportunity to have a dialogue now as you finalize program plans and obtain approvals from your governing organization and state.

The rapid growth in new nursing programs has also generated many questions. These will be addressed here and in future columns.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]At a recent NLNAC Self-Study Forum, my Associate Chair and I noticed that there appeared to be a large number of attendees who responded when you asked which programs were seeking initial accreditation. Are all of these new programs?

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]You have assessed the current climate accurately. There has been growing interest in accreditation for the past 3-5 years. However, you should know that the interest is not only from newly-developed programs. There are many longstanding programs seeking accreditation for the first time, many of which are successful programs located in geographical areas/states that have not previously supported specialized accreditation. Now these faculty recognize that employers and their colleagues in advanced degree programs are encouraging and/or requiring that graduates come from accredited programs. This trend has generated a great deal of interest in initial accreditation. The NLNAC is pleased to work with these programs and assist them in understanding and meeting the Accreditation Standards. We have seen interest in several states from the regulatory agencies, nursing centers, or healthcare agencies who wish to support and promote quality programs. With the ever-changing healthcare environment, it is essential that programs prepare graduates who can perform competently and safely in all settings. Accreditation assures the public that a program has been externally reviewed by nurse educators and practitioners with expertise in the program type and held to national standards in the promotion of ongoing quality improvement. We are working with seasoned and new faculty who are embracing this new challenge of accreditation.

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This is a non-final version of an article published in final form  in the NURSE EDUCATOR Journal. November/December 2011 Vol.36, No.6, pp.229-230