News & Politics

Students Livid After Duquesne University Withholds Nursing Diplomas

A group of nursing students at Duquesne are furious after their school held back their diplomas after they failed to perform satisfactorily on a certification practice exam. Not only are the students furious, but so are the parents:

A dispute over a controversial standardized test has blocked the graduation of more than 20 Duquesne University nursing students, placing their parents at odds with school administrators.

The students — part of a nursing class of 156 students at the Uptown school — did not receive diplomas at Duquesne’s May 12-13 graduation ceremonies because their scores did not meet a school-imposed minimum on a national preparatory test. The Health Education Systems Incorporated exam or HESI, is used by other schools in a similar way to prepare students for state licensing exams.

The university’s decision to withhold the bachelor’s degree diplomas set off an outcry among parents and their children. Many of them gathered over graduation weekend to craft a plan to fight back.

“It’s absolutely a devastating situation,” said Paul Furiga, a Pittsburgh public relations expert who serves as a spokesman for the families. He said the students are fearful of retribution if they speak out publicly.

Furiga, who is CEO of WordWrite Communications, said a few of the students have had job offers rescinded.

Some of the students would have graduated with honors had they met the HESI benchmark.

“All the parents want is for their children to receive their degrees and have the opportunity to sit for board exams,” Furiga said. “Some of them have talked to attorneys, but they want to give Duquesne the opportunity to do the right thing.”

I see the students’ point — but Duquesne has a valid argument as well.

The students worked for years for a degree, taking dozens of exams in a variety of classes, all for nothing because they failed to pass an exam that is essentially a practice test for a certification exam.

Yet just last month, a local university was reduced to having only conditional accreditation after their pass rate for the certification exam dropped below 80 percent. These universities have a real stake in making sure a sufficient number of students pass the exam, so requiring nursing students to pass a practice exam is a reasonable solution.

While I have sympathy for the students, this requirement wasn’t just suddenly dropped on them. They knew it was coming. It’s reportedly been the standard for the last three years. Now that they failed to meet it, they’re bent out of shape.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where these same parents and students would be so bothered that this test existed had the students all passed it.

Maybe it’s time for Mommy and Daddy to tells their precious darlings to step up. Duquesne is offering two free retakes and free tutoring — if they can’t pass with all that, they aren’t prepared and haven’t earned that degree yet.