By Jonathan Baca, Copy Editor
Starting in the spring 2014 semester, the Nursing program will begin implementing the newly created New Mexico Nursing Education Consortium (NMNEC) curriculum, and the switch has left many students who hope to get in to the program with nowhere to go, said Pre Health Sciences major Theresa Villanueva.
The change only affects students who are applying for the popular program for the first time starting next semester, and the new rules and regulations have effectively cut the number of new students allowed to 24 students, said program director Diane Evans-Prior, and this has left many hopeful students in a kind of educational limbo.
“I’m just kind of keeping my fingers crossed that I get into these classes. I’ve been just kind of going with the flow for now to see how it goes,” Villanueva said.
Villanueva said she has been planning to get into the Nursing program for years, finishing all the prerequisites and preparing to take the required Health Education Systems, Inc. (HESI) exam, only to discover that there was no room for her in the new program.
In addition, many classes she struggled to complete are no longer required under the new curriculum, she said.
“There’s just not enough space in the program, there’s people waiting on the list, and you take all these labs, and now you don’t even need the labs. So that was kind of a waste of time for me, because it took me forever to get through those,” Villanueva said.
Under the old system, which will be phased out over the next few semesters, students had to petition to get into the program, Evans-Prior said, and all the qualified students who had already petitioned before the change were still able to get in and will be the last group to complete the program under the old curriculum.
But for all the new students who meet the requirements, who are all vying for the coveted 24 positions, there are no guarantees that they will ever get in, said Pre- Health Advisor Nora Mendoza.
“The careers in the medical field are very, very popular. We’re the pipeline, but we’re only so wide. Slowly, our nursing program is going to be growing, but not at the rate that our demand is,” Mendoza said.
For the spring and summer semesters, entry into the program is being conducted with an open registration for Nursing 1010 and 1015, where the students with the most credit hours completed got the first shot at registering, Mendoza said.
For this spring, registration opened at 6 a.m., and the two sections were completely filled in two minutes, Mendoza said.
For the dozens of students like Villanueva who were not able to get in, the plans they had been making for years suddenly had to be changed at the last minute, Villanueva said.
“I’m still going to do it until I get in there, but hopefully it will be sooner than later. Hard work pays off eventually, but some people just give up when it’s too hard to get in,” Villanueva said.
Beginning next fall, the entry procedure will change — yet again — to a pre-registration screening process, where all qualified students will be screened by the department and placed into a pool, Mendoza said.
This pool will have a specially designated registration date and time, and just like the open registration method, the first students in the pool who manage to register for Nursing 1010 and 1015 will be guaranteed entry into the program, but the students who do not make it in will have to try again the next semester, Mendoza said.
“There are no guarantees, for any of our programs. We’re hoping with this pre-registration screening form that we make it open to everyone who meets the minimum requirements,” Mendoza said.
While this method gives more people the opportunity to get in, it also does not favor those students with the best grades and the highest HESI scores, making it difficult for those students who are the most dedicated to plan for their future, Villanueva said.
“I think they need to figure out a better way to weed out the people who aren’t really serious about the program, because the people who are serious, it turns many people away,” Villanueva said.
Another issue is the new rules surrounding the HESI exam, which has to be passed before a student is even qualified to register, Mendoza said.
In the past, a student’s results on the test were valid for five years, but now they will only be valid for one year, Mendoza said.
This means that if a student cannot get into the program in that year, they will have to pay the fee again to retake the exam, and they are still not guaranteed a spot, Villanueva said.
Evans-Prior said that the new program had to be so limited in size for several reasons.
First, she said, the brand new curriculum requires a totally new approach to teaching, and the smaller group of 24 students is more ideal for gathering the feedback that instructors will need to go forward.
Second, according to the new regulations created by the New Mexico State Board of Nursing, an instructor to student ratio of 1 to 8 is required while in a clinical setting.
The number of clinical sites available is also limited, Evans-Prior said.
“We know. We know that there are a lot of students out there that want seats. Our issue is that we have probably two to three qualified students for every one nursing seat,” she said.
Evans-Prior said that since the program will be operating with one group using the old curriculum alongside the new group learning the NMNEC curriculum, size of the new group had to remain small.
But as the old program is phased out, the school plans to slowly increase the number of new students accepted, she said.
“We are planning some very controlled growth, and we should be seeing those numbers increasing. Our five-year goal is to get back up to about 96 students three times a year. We can move that up as we add faculty and clinical sites,” Evans-Prior said.
In the meantime, Villanueva said she still plans on doing whatever she can to get into the program.
“Hopefully it gets better, because I’m almost there and I don’t want to have to give it up. But I feel bad for the people who don’t have the strength to get through,” Villanueva said.