Former nursing students of the American University of Antigua (AUA) are accusing the institution of cheating them out of valuable time and money and giving them worthless degrees, after the state of New York rejected the qualifications they spent two years working for.
Now, the AUA’s President Neal Simon is promising that students will get back the tens of thousands of dollars they paid in tuition fees if the state continues to refuse them the opportunity to work.
These developments have come two months after The Daily OBSERVER and Observer Radio were severely criticised for a series of stories that reported the AUA’s School of Nursing was not accredited.
In a report aired on Fox 5 News yesterday, three students spoke about their dreams of working as nurses being crushed because the nursing programme is not approved by the Antigua & Barbuda Nursing Council and is therefore not accredited in New York. So, although they have Associate Degrees, they’re unable to get jobs.
“I think it’s just important to expose the situation so that no one else could fall prey to this circumstance,” Ishmael Jeffers said in the television interview, a sentiment also expressed by another graduate Rosie Velasquez and another former student who left the programme early after spotting the problems.
They said that on entry to the nursing school they were assured, both in the university literature and responses to their direct questions, that once they graduated they would be eligible to sit the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Passing that test would allow them to work in the nursing sector.
However, Velasquez said that after graduating and returning to her New York home, her application to take the exam was denied because, according to the letter she received, the school is not being recognised by the Antigua & Barbuda Nursing Council.
“They lied to me. I was cheated. I went to Antigua, I left my family and I gave them two years out of my life to come back to nothing,” she lamented.
Jeffers added: “Everybody’s intention was to start a career which we’ve been robbed of now.”
According to the Fox 5 report, since the offshore medical school began its nursing programme in 2009, none of the graduates has been able to take the exam to become a nurse in New York, even though the university said students from Florida have been able to take the exam in that state.
AUA’s president acknowledged that the first graduating class ran into problems last year and since then AUA has not accepted another nursing student.
But those who had already completed the programme have been left out of pocket since their degrees are, at this point, just pieces of paper.
To go to the AUA School of Nursing, Velasquez said she had to borrow money, of which she still owes US$47,125.77. Her student loan totaled US$91,331.39.
But the AUA president said if the situation is not rectified, students will get their money back.
“We will reimburse the students the cost of education, which includes their tuition and the housing, etc the plane fare down to Antigua. Yes we will reimburse them,” Simon told Fox, although not saying how long he would wait before paying refunds.
He has insisted, though, that even though students got a raw deal, it was not his university’s fault.
Although faced with the reality of the graduates’ situation, Simon stuck to his previous position that a charter which the AUA received in 2003 specifically stated that the university “was approved and that our graduates are eligible for licensure.”
He also produced a letter, signed by Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, which stated that the government had granted a charter to AUA and its school of nursing and that the programme was fully approved and accredited by the minister of health.
However, that has not been enough for the New York State Education Department, which is currently trying to get to the bottom of the situation, according to the television report.
Back in March, OBSERVER carried a series of stories pointing out that some of the programmes offered by AUA, including nursing, were not accredited. In response to the reports, Executive Director of the Antigua & Barbuda National Accreditation Board Glenford Joseph said his agency had registered the School of Nursing and was in the process of doing so for the School of Medicine, the Veterinary School and the pre-med college.
“The government of Antigua & Barbuda stands by the American University of Antigua, which is registered and licensed by the state of New York,” he said at the time.
However, the Nursing Council said in a statement that it had not been involved in the registration process and accused the Accreditation Board of violating its own regulation to consult with various professional disciplines in the decision-making.
The Spencer administration had also issued a statement denouncing the OBSERVER reports.