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Controversial For-Profit Arizona College of Nursing Plans Expansion Into Wisconsin

Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Updated January 17, 2024
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    Wisconsin faces a nursing shortage. But will the expansion of a for-profit college help or hurt the state’s nursing students?
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin skyline along riverCredit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
    • Opening new campuses in Wisconsin could help meet the state’s nursing shortage.
    • Arizona College of Nursing faces an ongoing lawsuit and concerns over potentially predatory practices.

    Wisconsin is facing a nurse shortage. By 2030, 1 in 5 RN positions may go unfilled, according to 2022 projections. Enrolling more nursing students in the state would help cover the shortfall.

    Even so, a proposal from the for-profit Arizona College of Nursing to open two new nursing schools in Wisconsin has met resistance from the state’s nursing leaders and educators.

    The Arizona College of Nursing plans to open campuses in Milwaukee and Madison over the next two years. The Wisconsin Board of Nursing has granted preliminary approval for the Milwaukee campus. Still, the college faces ongoing legal problems in another state and has been the subject of considerable controversy.

    For example, Edna Hudson-Kinzey, MSN, RN, president of the Milwaukee chapter of the National Black Nurses Association, filed a complaint against the move with the Wisconsin Educational Approval Program, claiming the school would not provide adequate student support.

    Hudson-Kinzey told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “cookie cutter” programs fail to provide resources tailored to the community, such as transportation and childcare.

    “Those are the barriers that prevent my Black and brown people from being able to matriculate and graduate from schools of nursing,” Hudson-Kinzey said.

    Arizona College of Nursing: A Brief History of Controversy

    Arizona College of Nursing holds accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and currently operates 20 campuses in 12 states. The for-profit college has expanded rapidly in recent years, opening new campuses in St. Louis, Cleveland, and Cincinnati in 2023.

    In a statement announcing the Ohio campuses, Arizona College of Nursing argued that nursing school enrollment must increase to meet demand, and “schools like Arizona College of Nursing are helping to fill the gap.”

    More than 1,000 qualified applicants failed to get into a traditional BSN program in 2021-22, according to the Wisconsin Nursing Education and Nurse Faculty Survey Report. Only two of over 40 nursing programs in the state currently operate as a for-profit institution.

    Arizona College of Nursing’s expansion plans have not come without pushback. In Wisconsin, the Committee for Equity in Nursing Education sponsored a petition to stop the planned Milwaukee campus. With support from the National Hispanic Nurses and the National Black Nurses Association, the committee argues that for-profit nursing schools take advantage of vulnerable students.

    “Milwaukee has been here before. We will not let another for-profit college enrich itself at the expense of our most vulnerable and marginalized students,” the petition stated.

    Concerns also center on a 2022 Texas lawsuit filed by Arizona College of Nursing students. The lawsuit alleges that the college engaged in fraudulent practices and overcharged students. The plaintiffs specifically allege that the college did not inform them they could not transfer Arizona College of Nursing credits to other nursing schools, and they were discouraged from taking steps to complete their nursing degrees.

    The lawsuit is ongoing in federal court.

    When contacted by NurseJournal a spokesperson for Arizona College of Nursing declined to comment, noting, “We are in the planning stages and in the application process for various regulatory bodies.”

    Student Outcomes at Arizona College of Nursing

    Recent student outcome data has also raised concerns at the Wisconsin Board of Nursing, which must approve the new campuses. In 2022, Arizona College of Nursing reported a 65% program completion rate. That falls short of the 70% completion rate required for CCNE accreditation.

    In a response to the Wisconsin Board of Nursing, Arizona College of Nursing noted that its completion rates reached 82% in 2018 and 71% in 2019, pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic for falling completion rates.

    Arizona College of Nursing does meet the NCLEX pass rate requirements set by CCNE, which requires an 80% pass rate. The college reported an 84.89% NCLEX pass rate on all campuses in 2022.

    In 2022, the Wisconsin Board of Nursing granted approval to the Arizona College of Nursing to begin planning its Milwaukee campus. The school still needs the board of nursing’s approval to admit students and begin operating.

    Arizona College of Nursing in Wisconsin: Plans Move Ahead, but Concerns Remain

    While plans continue for a 2024 Milwaukee campus opening and a 2025 Madison campus opening, opposition persists. In Milwaukee, the Committee for Equity in Nursing Education argues that the Arizona College of Nursing “does not deliver on its promises.”

    “We refuse to let this predatory institution exploit a very serious nursing workforce crisis to enrich itself at our community’s expense,” their petition states.

    For-profit institutions enroll a higher percentage of historically underrepresented students. While for-profit schools account for 5% of college students, 12% of Black graduates and 7% of Hispanic graduates attended for-profit institutions, according to a 2023 Federal Reserve report.

    In addition, 48% of for-profit bachelor’s graduates say they would have chosen a different school in hindsight, compared with less than 1 in 4 nonprofit college graduates. Further, just 31% of for-profit students said that their education was worth the cost, compared to numbers above 50% for those at nonprofit colleges.

    As the debate over the future of Arizona College of Nursing’s Wisconsin campuses continues, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson is watching the situation closely.

    “He is very aware of the troubled history of for-profit colleges here in Milwaukee,” Johnson’s spokesperson Jeff Fleming told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “At this time he is reviewing the matter.”

    The Committee for Equity in Nursing Education had a message for the mayor: “If this for-profit institution is permitted to operate in our city, they may end up battling for clinical space with the legitimate, established nursing programs already operating with greater success and accountability. We cannot let this happen.”