Under Virginia code, only postsecondary schools with a physical presence in the state are eligible for certification. All in-state private and out-of-state public and private institutions must be certified until they have operated for at least 10 years under the same ownership and have remained fully accredited.
SCHEV's Private and Out-of-State Postsecondary Education office last year certified 342 colleges and vocational schools, including 175 for-profit institutions granting degrees and certificates.
Certification offers a measure of protection for students, including a tuition guaranty fund that can provide restitution if a school closes. It also means the school must be accredited, although new in-state schools have three years to reach that level.
SCHEV can check that the faculty has proper credentials, "but can we say this is a good teacher?" said Linda H. Woodley, director of the Private and Out-of-State Postsecondary Education office.
She recommends that before students sign an agreement, they sit in on a class at the school and talk to potential classmates about their experiences.
Woodley, whose office mediates complaints between certified schools and students, said one of the problems she sees most is that students have not read the agreements they sign. That can lead to disagreements, for example, when a required externship turns out be an hour's drive away or more.
Jodi Power, deputy executive director of the state Board of Nursing, recommends that before choosing a school students check the pass rates on the NCLEX licensing exam, which are posted on the board's website.
RSHT's passage rate for its practical-nursing program has been below 80 percent since 2006, said Tomeka Dowling, the board's nursing education consultant. Last year, 62 of 86 candidates passed, or 72 percent. In 2009, the rate was 42 percent.
The board voted in May to negotiate a consent order with RSHT that would allow the school to continue to operate the program but not accept new students until the passage rate exceeds 80 percent.
The board could move to discontinue the practical-nursing program if RSHT does not agree to the consent order outlining steps necessary to improve practical-nursing instruction.
The nursing board also regulates programs in certified nursing assistant and registered nursing, as well as massage therapy. Other state agencies oversee licensing for some programs. The Board of Cosmetology and Barbering, for example, regulates barbering, cosmetology, nail care, waxing, hair braiding, tattooing, body-piercing and esthetics.
But not all programs that a school might offer carry such oversight or even nationally recognized accreditation.
That can cause confusion for students who think they have credits that will transfer toward a degree program, said Malcolm Holmes, director of marketing and public relations for J. Sargeant Reynolds.
Richmond has a crowded market of postsecondary offerings, with much overlap and duplication of services.
Holmes said a recent survey found 54 institutions of higher education in the Richmond metro area, many offering similar programs.
"It's a lot of competition here for the same population of students," he said.
The community college system has an open admission policy, but Holmes said Reynolds' practical- and registered-nursing programs are not easy to get into. Admission to both programs is competitive, with applicants required to pass screening exams.
And at the end of the program, the students still must pass the state licensing exam, regardless of whether they graduated from a public or proprietary school.
ECPI awards a diploma for its $32,500 practical-nursing program; Reynolds awards a certificate.
But the nursing board's standard for instruction doesn't vary with the price tag or the name of the credential awarded, Dowling said. "It's the same."
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