Students sue Owens over loss of nursing accreditation, may cost millions

Ella Fowler and Ella Fowler

Nearly 100 students are suing an area community college for what they feel is negligence, fraud and breach of contract when the college failed to gain re-accreditation in its two-year nursing program.

Eighty-three students from both Findlay and Perrysburg Township branches of Owens Community College are seeking punitive damages in excess of $25,000 each. Damages could total in the millions.

Students involved in the suit were unable to comment, but according to John Camillus, an attorney with Cooper ‘amp; Elliot law firm in Columbus who is representing the students, the firm wants each student to be accommodated based on individual cases.

He said students should receive compensation based upon various expenses including change of income or tuition in result of the loss of accreditation. For example, Camillus said, some students quit their jobs to attend the nursing program while others might have to attend a four-year college or university that requires higher tuition to gain their nursing degree.

The lawsuit was filed in Ohio Court of Claims.

In early 2007, the nursing department of the collage received notification from the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission stated the college needed to improve upon the number of part-time adjunct faculty with Masters of Science in Nursing degrees and the second was assessment leading to program improvement, which means the college needs to explain how they use data to improve the nursing program. The school had until 2009 to improve these standards, but when they failed to do so, Owens lost its nursing accreditation in a letter dated July 27 from the NLNAC.

Camillus said since the college had known for almost two years it could lose their accreditation, they should have warned students so they could have chosen to transfer or even attend another college.

‘Instead [Owens’ students] are getting a degree that, if it is not worthless, then [it] has less value than what they paid for and what they studied for,’ Camillus said.

Owens’ Vice Provost Renay Scott said she was unable to comment on the pending litigation.

As far as the accreditation goes, Scott said it was like starting over. According to Scott, there is a four-step process in regaining accreditation and the school is working closely with NLNAC, who has said they are willing to work with Owens to make the accreditation process run smoother and quicker.

Scott said the school is striving to complete the process by the 2010-2011 school year.

‘We are very disappointed in losing accreditation,’ Scott said. ‘Certainly by losing accreditation it has hurt the reputation of the program.’

Scott said the reason the college did not meet the program improvement standard of the accreditation process because Owens didn’t fully explain how to use data to improve their program.

‘The report didn’t do a good job of explaining the improvement standards we have,’ she said.

Scott explained the burden of ensuring the NLNAC understands the improvements rest on the writer and Owens didn’t do a good job in that case.

Scott said they are working closely with students, area partners and other area four-year colleges to ensure Owens students have the best opportunities with the nursing program. She said the college has held a transfer opportunities open houses where nursing students could meet with other four-year colleges to discuss their options, and the college hopes to host an employment opportunities open house in January where students can talk to area health partners and discuss career opportunities.

‘I think one of the most important things we can do [to gain trust with students] is improve our communication with our students and our internal and external partners,’ Scott said. ‘I think improved communication is the first step and the second stop is gaining accreditation and also communication in how we are changing the process to make sure this won’t happen again.’