Getting RCC nursing back on track
Roberson touts new investments in program
Roxbury Community College recently completed a $72 million renovation that included extensive upgrades to its buildings’ heating and cooling systems, a new cafeteria and student center, and a state-of-the-art nursing laboratory.
The college suffered a setback in June when the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing withdrew accreditation, effectively shuttering RCC’s nursing program and leaving 37 students currently enrolled in the program scrambling to find placements in other schools.
The board cited high turnover in leadership — the nursing program had five directors in three years — and low scores on the state nursing exam.
RCC President Valerie Roberson said that while college began revamping its nursing program two years ago, making extensive changes to the curriculum, overhauling the admissions process and making changes to the faculty and staff, the changes did not come fast enough for the state board.
“We put all these things in motion once we realized changes were needed,” she said in an interview with the Banner.
While the pass rate on the licensing exam reached as low as 43 percent in 2015, the school had made strides in recent years with a pass rate of 78 percent in 2018.
“You could see the changes were having an impact,” Roberson said.
Roberson says the turnover at RCC’s nursing program is the result of competition in Boston’s health care field. Some directors were lured away to jobs with higher salaries. One nursing director, Kristin Lundsten, was removed from the position after little more than a month on the job after state regulators found that she did not have the requisite three years of teaching experience for the job.
RCC hired the current nursing director, Simona Hankins, over the summer.
“She’s been counseling students daily, and she took the lead in drafting and submitting our application for reinstatement,” Roberson said. “We are committed to retaining our faculty and staff to ensure that students can connect with the same group of personnel throughout their educational careers.”
RCC is in the process of submitting an application for reinstatement, Roberson added.
The new nursing wing is in many ways emblematic of Roberson’s aspirations for RCC, and a reminder of the challenges she has faced in turning the school around.
The new classrooms have new windows, carpeting, desks and chairs and are outfitted with smartboards. In the new examination rooms, life-like mannequins attached to vital sign displays simulate injuries and illness, while in control rooms, instructors can simulate real-life medical care situations.
“They can simulate any type of injury with this control room,” Roberson says. “Everything is recorded so the students can see themselves and understand what they’re doing right and wrong.”
The new space also features a radiology lab with a working x-ray machine, a pharmacy and an obstetrics room in which a mannequin can simulate childbirth.
RCC leveraged partnerships with local health care providers, including Partners Health Care and CVS, to help outfit the classrooms and train instructors.
In addition to the nursing school, Roberson says RCC has made changes to instruction throughout the school’s disciplines.
“We’ve changed the way we deliver instruction,” she said. “All our classes are transferable. We give our students a good start. They gain confidence in their abilities and they do well when they transfer to other schools.”
One change that seems counterintuitive was the elimination of remedial math classes. In recent years, as much as 60 percent of the student body took such classes. Now, students who are not able to complete a math course such as algebra are given extra time in each class. The hours of instruction in math classes have been doubled to accommodate the extra instruction time.
In a pilot project, students given the extra math instruction time had a 63 percent pass rate, a vast improvement over the 20 percent pass rate for students who took remedial classes.
“When we extended it from the pilot project to all classes, the pass rate was 62 percent,” Roberson says.
The elimination of the remedial classes saves students the time and cost of taking an extra class — important advantages for the mostly low-income student body at RCC.
“Our students are very busy,” Roberson said. “Their average age is 31.”
Roberson has also doubled the number of high school students taking dual-enrollment classes at RCC, an arrangement that enables them to earn college credits while still in high school.
She has opened an office to offer low-income students assistance with public benefits programs including SNAP, transitional assistance, child care assistance, housing assistance and health care.
“We’re really trying to connect the dots so students have a safety net so they can continue their education,” she said.
The school now operates a tutoring center, with tutors fluent in Spanish and other languages spoken by RCC students. The center remains open during RCC’s hours.
The instructional changes at RCC come on the heels of the school’s $72 million in renovations, which were mostly completed by 2017. The new spaces at RCC give the 30-year-old buildings the look and feel of a new school.
Roberson has work to do to bring the nursing program up to date, but she expressed confidence the college will pass its next state review.
“I think the changes we’ve made have fundamentally changed the culture of the college,” she said.