The University of the Sciences, which specializes in health-care and science education, is losing accreditation for one of its programs — the physician assistant's master's program — leaving some undergraduate students who were on track to enter it next fall in the lurch.
The West Philadelphia university has offered the 16 students free tuition for two semesters to complete a bachelor's degree in another area, or assistance in helping them transfer to another university in the region with an accredited program. The university also is attempting to assist 24 more students who graduated from other universities and had been admitted to the USciences graduate program.
"The kids were devastated," said Patti Harnwell, mother of Nicole, a USciences undergraduate who had been accepted into the master's program for the fall. "I am furious.… The hours and hours of stress and work they have done, and now they have to wait another year to get into a school - no guarantee they will even get in."
The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, based in Georgia, said the university failed to meet 11 of 108 standards dealing with assessment and administration of the program.
Rather than fight the ruling, the university agreed to withdraw from the accreditation process so that the 120 students currently enrolled in the graduate program can get their degrees and be eligible for the certification exam.
"They told us, if we chose to not pursue an appeal, they would allow us to teach out our three classes of currently enrolled students," said Paul Katz, who came on as president of the 2,600-student university in September. "We felt the best option for our students was to try to do the best for the most."
The graduate program will lose its probationary status and end in 2019; the pre-physician assistant's undergraduate program will continue, but students will have to go to elsewhere for their master's.
Harnwell, of Havertown, said the university's decision did not benefit her daughter, who now has to find another school for her master's. The university, she said, should have informed students earlier of the potential problem. She and her daughter weren't told until January, even though officials knew of a problem in October.
"Then they could have applied to other schools," she said.
The university, she said, also should have offered to refund tuition to students in the pre-physician assistant's program. Tuition, fees and room and board for 2016-17 are $54,038.
"This could destroy your whole name," Harnwell said she told university officials.
This week, university officials were meeting with students in various levels of the program. They include the 120 students in the graduate program, 40 students in the first two years of the three-year pre-physician assistant's program, and the 40 who were to enter the graduate program in the fall.
"We will do everything we can to keep you on the path of your continued studies, including contacting comparable PA programs on your behalf," university officials wrote to students this week.
Philadelphia, Drexel, and Salus Universities are among local schools with accredited programs. The accrediting agency, Katz said, will allow the schools to add students from the USciences program.
Katz, a physician who specializes in rheumatology, said he did not think the accrediting agency's action was warranted, especially considering the school's attempt to remedy the violations, and the fact that the program was relatively new and on provisional status.
"We thought the things we had done and put in place were clearly at or above standards," he said.
The accrediting body declined to comment.
The university received its provisional accreditation in 2012 and graduated its first class of physician assistants last May. It first received the warning that it was not in compliance with standards last fall, Katz said.
The school has since corrected violations and plans to re-apply for accreditation in 2018, Katz said. A site visit would occur in 2019 and the university could receive accreditation in 2020, he said.