February 22, 2022

Arizona Nursing Board Accuses For-Profit Aspen University of “Unprofessional Conduct”

Arizona Nursing Board Accuses For-Profit Aspen University of "Unprofessional Conduct"

The Arizona State Board of Nursing on Friday charged for-profit Aspen University with “unprofessional conduct,” a development that leaves the school’s some 700 Arizona-based nursing students with uncertain futures.  In a 15-page complaint, the board cited evidence, based on student complaints and its own investigation, of low nursing license exam scores, rapid admissions growth, decrease in clinical programs, and more. The complaint warns that the school faces disciplinary sanctions for violations of the law.

The Arizona nursing board warned at a January 28 meeting, which Aspen officials attended, that Aspen would need to sign a consent order committing to improvements by last Friday, or else face charges. A board official said at the meeting that Aspen’s nursing school problems  were “very severe,” an “infrastructure collapse,” putting students “at great risk” and “a situation where they would be harmed.”

Arizona law requires nursing programs in the state to have an 80 percent first-time passage rate on the nursing license exam, which is called the NCLEX. Aspen University’s 2021 rate was 58 percent, but reportedly has increased to 86 percent in 2022.

Aspen University in total has about 10,000 students, all studying online. It offers a range of undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as short-term certificates, in fields including business, education, and arts and sciences, as well as nursing. It is operated by the Aspen Group, whose stock is publicly traded. Aspen’s CEO is New York-based Michael Mathews. Aspen also operates San Diego-based United States University, which it acquired in 2017. 

Aspen Group’s board of directors includes former U.S. representative Norm Dicks (D-WA) and Andrew Kaplan, managing partner of private equity firm Education Growth Partners and formerly with Quad Partners

Mathews told Inside Higher Ed last week that he was “in the process of working closely with the Board of Nursing to determine what the terms of the consent decree will be, so it’s a little premature … at this point to express what the finality of the consent agreement will be.”

The school posted a statement online on February 10 blaming the COVID pandemic for its problems and declaring that it would not “sign any agreement that jeopardizes our currently enrolled student’s ability to continue to work within our academic institution to finish their degree.”

Aspen has indeed been engaged in a rapid expansion in recent years. Aspen has a 31 percent graduation rate, according to Department of Education data.

The school is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). 

The Arizona nursing board complaint gives Aspen 30 days to respond.

UPDATE 09-22-22: Aspen University this week surrendered its Arizona state license to offer prelicensure nursing programs, after it told the state nursing board it would not meet the state’s minimum 80 percent nursing exam pass rate for 2022. In an SEC filing, the Aspen Group added, “Having entered into this agreement with the Arizona State Board of Nursing, Aspen will suspend new enrollments and complete instruction of its program for currently enrolled Core nursing students in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas.” More from Higher Ed Dive