British Columbia

Hundreds take a foundation course. Only dozens are accepted to study nursing. It's a 'cash grab,' students say

Aspiring nurses say Kwantlen Polytechnic University has pumped too many students through its prerequisite Health Foundations program, when enrollment in the actual nursing school is limited and highly competitive.

Intake for Kwantlen Polytechnic University's Health Foundations course now 'postponed indefinitely'

Third year KPU Bachelor of Science in Nursing students Hartej Sehmby, 22 and Patrizia Ladisla, 21 assess the condition of a computerized mannequin that simulates real-life scenarios. (Belle Puri/CBC)

Zach Parker hopes his time on the construction site will help eventually build him a path to nursing.

Parker, 20, is among a dozen students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) who tell CBC News the school is running a "cash grab," allowing hundreds each year to take the prerequisite for nursing but only dozens into the nursing program itself.

"I'm really upset about it, because I've wasted a year on nursing — and I want to be a nurse," said Parker. 

He has completed Kwantlen's one-year Health Foundations program, which has served as a prerequisite for nursing since 2016. 

The program admitted 594 students in the 2018-19 academic year.

But the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) only admits 64 students each year, and the Bachelor of Psychiatric Nursing (BPN) only admits 40 students each year.

That has Parker and his classmates calling foul.   

KPU accepts 64 students a year into its Bachelor of Science in Nursing and 40 students a year into its Bachelor of Psychiatric Nursing programs. (Belle Puri/CBC)

"All of a sudden, all these other students who have completed their first year, have really great GPAs [grade point averages] ranging from 3.0 to 3.94 are all stranded."

He says he and his classmates were advised to retake classes — meaning more time and tuition money — in order to get their grades high enough.

The GPA required for the nursing program varies from year to year. In the spring 2020 intake, only students with a GPA of 3.95 or higher (of a maximum 4.33) make the cut.

Mikaela Barton, 21, says she would rather move schools than waste money repeating prerequisites she's already done well in, but even that is proving difficult.

"Most of my courses don't even transfer over anywhere. So if I retook a course to get a better grade and still didn't get in, I'm just out money and out my time," said Barton.

Health Foundations intake 'postponed indefinitely' 

The dean of Kwantlen's faculty of health, David Florkowski, says Health Foundations is a "quality program" that prepares students for success in health care.

"Students who have gone through Health Foundations, the retention rate is higher and they're more successful," he said.

However, an alert on Kwantlen's website shows that intake into the Health Foundations program has been "postponed indefinitely."

Florkowski said admissions were closed because the faculty recognized the "surge" of students meant there were enough to sustain applications for the nursing programs.

"It's on hold right now to make sure we're actually focusing on the existing students who are in the system," he said.

Students say competition for KPU's Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Bachelor of Psychiatric Nursing has skyrocketed.

Florkowski said Health Foundations can also be used to pursue a degree in health science or a diploma in Traditional Chinese Medicine-Acupuncture.

KPU nursing students with a prerequisite Health Foundations certificate are not guaranteed entrance into Bachelor of Science in Nursing or Bachelor of Psychiatric Nursing programs. (Belle Puri/CBC )

Nursing programs competitive, expensive

B.C. Nurses Union president Christine Sorensen says the competitive nature of nursing enables schools to be selective when it comes to criteria like GPA.

But, she said nursing students are already prone to stress, and need more supportive environments if they are to progress through their programs.

"Government statistics tell us we need 25,000 more nurses by the year 2030. So we can't afford to lose any nurse or any nursing student," said Sorensen.

While the obvious solution — with eager students and a nursing shortage — might be opening up more spots in the nursing program, that's prohibitively expensive, says Kwantlen.

In a letter to students last month from the dean's office, the faculty of health said "the cost to train a nursing student is very high," and subsidized by both government funding and the institution.

"KPU has committed to keeping tuition rates low for students and therefore can only accept a specific number of students within our government provided threshold," the letter reads.

Additional criteria being considered 

The letter also told students the faculty was looking at other options — besides GPA — to assess the pool of applicants.

Florkowski said KPU is considering whether to factor in work experience and other criteria in the application process.

Sorensen said nursing often requires skills that a grade point average doesn't capture.

"Being able to have human contact and relationships with your patients and be able to communicate well … we're encouraging programs to look at the whole individual so that these nurses can be resilient in nursing."

Zach Parker and Mikaela Barton are frustrated that they've completed KPU's Health Foundations program but still cannot get into nursing school. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

Equal opportunities 

However, students are still unsure about the program.

"I'm feeling hopeless," says Barton. "I'm not really sure what I'm going to do… If it takes another two years to start my degree, it's really not worth it for me."

Parker, meanwhile, says he knows not everyone can be a nurse.

"We want equal opportunities and we want each student to have a fair chance of getting into nursing," he said. 

"The way the system is laid out by the government and Kwantlen makes it almost impossible for it to be [a] fair game." 

With files from Belle Puri 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story provided incorrect information regarding the number of students admitted to Kwantlen Polytechnic University's Health Foundations program. According to new information provided by KPU, 594 students were admitted to the program in the 2018-19 academic year.
    Nov 26, 2019 11:45 AM PT

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