Arizona shuts down Aspen University nursing program

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Dive Brief:

  • Aspen University, a 9,100-student for-profit based in Phoenix, surrendered its prelicensure nursing program license Tuesday after informing the Arizona State Board of Nursing it will not be able to meet the state’s minimum exam pass rate for 2022.
  • In 2021, less than 60% of Aspen nursing students in Arizona passed the National Council Licensure Examination, the test required to become a nurse, on their first try. Arizona’s minimum program first-time pass rate for the exam is 80%.
  • Poor student outcomes have plagued Aspen’s nursing program. Due to a failure to meet state standards, the program has been on probation with the state’s nursing board, leaving it unable to enroll new students since March.

Dive Insight:

Losing Arizona licensure is a major blow for Aspen, which is owned by New York-based Aspen Group, a publicly traded company that also operates United States University.

A vast majority of Aspen’s 9,100 students, 84%, are enrolled in its nursing programs, according to public filings. Some 6,200 are registered nurses studying for an advanced degree, and 1,484 are in bachelor of science in nursing prelicensure programs in the Phoenix; Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Tampa, Florida; and Nashville, Tennessee areas.

But after entering into the agreement with Arizona regulators, the university is also suspending new enrollment and completing instruction for current nursing students in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, it said in a Tuesday filing.

Aspen has had the attention of regulators all year after the Arizona State Board of Nursing investigated Aspen’s nursing program for poor exam pass rates. The board in February offered the university a three-year consent agreement under which it couldn’t enroll new students in core nursing classes until exam passage rates improved.

Speaking to the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education later that month, university leaders answered questions about the program’s operation, the career preparation students receive and poor National Council Licensure Examination results. 

State regulators then instructed Aspen to stop new enrollment into its nursing program at two Phoenix campuses.

And in April, a former student filed a class-action complaint against Aspen Group, the university’s owner, saying it had violated Arizona’s Consumer Fraud Act, according to KSAZ.

Students who are already enrolled can continue their studies and graduate within two years. The state’s board of private colleges and Aspen’s accreditor, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, will oversee the teach-out and outgoing transfers.

Aspen can apply for its nursing program’s reinstatement beginning two years after its closure in 2024. Aspen did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

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