Administrators reflect on HESI policy, plan for student success in nursing program

Since repealing the “850 rule,” the School of Nursing is meeting with students who were dismissed from the program as a result of it to reinstate them. (Courtesy of UMass Lowell)

Marlon Pitter
Connector Editor

When Vice Provost for Student Success Julie Nash first heard about the requirement for nursing students to score an 850 or greater on their Health Education Systems Incorporated exams as a progression policy, it was not over the summer when the change was first put into place.

Instead, it was in January when a parent of a student dismissed from the nursing program called Nash directly with concerns about their future.

“I was very surprised to find that the school was dismissing students in otherwise good academic standing junior and senior year without another path,” said Nash. “That January was probably pretty terrible for a lot of our really good students, and that’s just too bad that that happened.”

While the nursing program has used HESI exams as factor in students’ final grades in specialty courses since 2004, according to College of Health Sciences Associate Dean of Student Success Deirdra Murphy, the elevation of the exam scores to a progression requirement this year – a move intended to help improve the program – caused many otherwise successful students to be removed from the program.

Nash said she believes the unintended consequences of this implementation could have been avoided with more reviewing of the policy before it became official.

She said the policy never went through the Undergraduate Policy Committee – comprised of faculty from each college and staff from essential departments such as the Registrar’s Office – which could have identified potential pitfalls for nursing students. If a potential policy does not meet the standards of the Undergraduate Policy Committee, then it is sent back to the college it originated from for further revisions.

The School of Nursing announced the reversal of the HESI policy on March 8 and is reviewing students individually for reinstatement. While Nash said “some real damage was done” by this new standard, she gives credit to the nursing program for acting quickly to reverse it.

“I definitely applaud the nursing faculty for recognizing their mistake and owning it and reversing it because sometimes it’s very hard for people to do that,” she said.

The School of Nursing held an open forum at O’Leary Library on Feb. 21 to discuss the HESI policy, where administrators and faculty were met with an uproar of concern from nursing students. It was not the only discourse about the policy between students and faculty, but it was effective enough to reverse the change two weeks later.

The College of Health Sciences and School of Nursing are now focusing on moving forward to improve student success.

The School of Nursing started working on this intention immediately by hosting two test-taking workshops for juniors and seniors. One took place Friday, March 31, while the next one is set for Friday, April 7.

According to Interim Dean Karen Melillo’s letter to nursing students and The Connector, HESI exams will be administered after each seven-week period with review sessions available to all students beginning in fall 2017. Students who do not score an 850 on the HESI exams “will receive resources for success.”

In addition, Baccalaureate Program Director Laurie Soroken said she wants to help better prepare students to utilize the resources nursing students have early in their undergraduate careers.

Through courses such as Strategies for Academic Success, HESI case studies and practice exams, and Don Anderson National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse exam reviews, Soroken said nursing students will continue to have a bevy of resources to succeed in the program.

However, the changes are not just for students, Murphy said. The nursing school will also provide resources to faculty to help them better support students as well.

“They’ve been doing it, but sometimes I think we have to realize there are different ways to support different students’ learning styles,” Murphy said. “We want to make sure we meet students where they’re at to be successful.”

In regards to any possible policy changes in the future, Soroken and Murphy said nursing faculty meet monthly with student representatives and will continue to do so to incorporate proper feedback.

Nash said she is pleased with how nursing students were able to have their voices heard and bring change to their program.

“We are just so proud of and impressed with the students who took a proactive approach, opened up a dialogue with their faculty,” said Nash. “A few processes broke down. It’s not going to happen again. It won’t happen to students in any other programs, and we’ve learned. The university does care, and we will always try to do better.”

Marlon Pitter is a former editor-in-chief of the UMass Lowell Connector. Hailing from Hartford, Conn., he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in journalism and professional writing and a digital media minor in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @marlonpresents.

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  1. Uml nursing student drop out said:

    The school of nursing decisions was not fair enough to nursing students who had took HESI exam. Most of the students failed the nursing program because of the hesi exams which was given 30% of every nursing courses at the end of seven weeks or fourteen. The nursing department wouldn’t be rushing to call back the students who had failed to meet the requirements for HESI 850, but should reflect from the beginning of the HESI exams in sophomore, junior and finally senior year. All the nursing schools in Massachusetts don’t value HESI exam or ATI as the keys factor for nursing students succeess. It only given 5%. This school deserves lawsuits for wrong doing.

  2. A Concerned Parent said:

    So the Nursing Dept snuck this rule in without running it through the Undergraduate Policy Committee? Whomever approved this idea without proper channels ought to be in trouble, maybe even “dismissed” from their job. Karma.
    That NO ONE IN Nursing Administration realized that NO parent would risk spending $75 to 100K on a program where your kid can be kicked out Senior year over one test, shows a terrible lack of common sense on their part.
    UML Nursing is currently scoring second lowest in the state on the NCLEX scores(Google it. But hey! Still beating out Roxbury Community College!). This shows me that the program currently is not teaching these very bright students what they need to know. I know personally of two families who won’t be sending their kids to UML, due to this whole HESI uproar & the current NCLEX pass (or actually, not pass) rates. What has gone wrong with this program recently to cause NCLEX rates to drop so badly? UML needs to look into this, as well as who here is making bad policy without approval.

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