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Virginia Western has the Fralin Center for Science and Health Professions (above), the STEM Building and a nursing stimulation lab. The college on Tuesday announced that its nursing program has gained national accreditation after a two-year evaluation process.

Virginia Western Community College on Tuesday announced it has received national accreditation for its nursing program.

The initial approval by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing comes a dozen years after another national nursing organization pulled its accreditation and triggered a lawsuit by former students that led to a $2.4 million settlement.

To gain ACEN accreditation of its associate of applied science degree in nursing, Virginia Western had to go through a two-year process that evaluated quality and effectiveness.

“I am so proud of Virginia Western’s nursing faculty and staff who have committed whole-heartedly to this process in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of their program and curriculum,” Robert Sandel, president of Virginia Western, said in a news release. “As an institution, we are fortunate to reside in a healthcare-focused region, and our students are an ongoing and integral part of elevating the level of care that is provided. The ACEN accreditation will help us serve our students, our area healthcare providers and our community better.”

Virginia Western is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award two-year degrees. Additional accreditation for nursing programs is voluntary, but it is recommended by the National Council of State Boards in order to ensure continuity and quality in nursing training.

Virginia Western’s program has maintained approval by the Virginia Board of Nurses, which means its graduates are eligible to sit for licensing exams.

The nursing program in 2006 lost its 24-year accreditation through the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, but students did not learn of it until a year later. About 75 students filed a lawsuit alleging fraud and breach of contract and claiming that the loss of accreditation would harm their ability to pursue further nursing education and obtain employment. The state eventually settled, paying $2.4 million.

The program lost the accreditation mainly because its instructors did not have advanced degrees; nurses with master’s and doctoral degrees who wanted to teach were in short supply.

Virginia Western spokesman Josh Meyer said he had not heard of that being an issue any longer.

Much has changed since then, and health care has played an increasing role in the region’s economy.

Myers said Virginia Western now has the Fralin Center for Science and Health Professions, the STEM Building and a nursing stimulation lab, as well as a new dean and nursing program head.

He said the school sought accreditation as a stamp of approval to share with employers and the community about the quality and high level of its nursing graduates.

The ACEN board of governors granted the initial five-year accreditation in September, making it retroactive to January 2018.

Currently 131 students are enrolled in the program, and applications are being taken for the fall 2020 cohort.

Virginia Western has plans to expand the program by adding a spring cohort to help meet the demand for nurses, Myers said. It is also starting a certified nursing assistant program in January for students who want to pursue that as an entrance to the pathway for an RN.

And the college is working to bring surgery tech and associate in physical therapy programs to its campus. These are the remaining two-year programs that were offered at Jefferson College of Health Sciences before it merged into Radford University.

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