LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Worried nursing students packed the board of regents' room at New Mexico State University to capacity and beyond.
With students lining the walls and filling the hallways, Doña Ana Community College President Margie Huerta updated the board on the nursing program's accreditation issues.
Members of the board responded by saying they didn't even know the program's accreditation was in jeopardy.
"I am a little bit concerned that this just seemed to come out of nowhere. I'm worried there are other programs that are currently accredited that could potentially lose their accreditation," Javier Gonzales, one of the regents, said.
"I would just admonish Dr. Huerta and everybody involved to continue to communicate and collaborate. The worst thing that can happen is for people to feel like they don't know what's going on," Isaac Pino, another regent, said.
Members of the board said they first started hearing about this a few months ago, despite the college knowing about it for at least two years.
Several fourth-level nursing students, or students in their last semester of the nursing program, expressed worries and pleaded for help from the board during public comment.
The board said DACC made a promise to these students, and it's up to Huerta and her administration to fix the problem.
"I feel like there's so much more that I would want to do, but I feel like our hands are tied, and we can't do it. So really, it quite honestly rests on your lap," Gonzales said.
"It has to remain a focus. We can't wait for phone calls. We can't wait for letters. If we have to get in our cars and drive to wherever somebody is and sit outside their office, that's what we need to do," Pino said.
Tracy Lopez, the nursing program director, admitted 21 students have already dropped out or transferred.
Some fourth-level students are so discouraged, they're urging lower level students to get out while they still can.
"For future nursing students or any kind of student, make sure that you don't trust the program that you're in, I guess, as bad as that is to say. We should've looked up. If I would've known this at the time, I would've done my own research," Brittany Barham, a fourth-level nursing student, told ABC-7.
ABC-7 asked Huerta about that, but she refused to answer and walked away.
"We still don't have any answers. None of us really know what we're doing or where to really go with all of this. We're all still enrolled in that program because we kind of have nowhere to go," Barham said.
Huerta said she is speaking with CEOs from several local hospitals to see if they would make an exception and hire students from their program even if it is non-accredited.
She said she is also working to see if the other DACC branches, including Carlsbad and Alamogordo, would accept their students.
Classes start on Thursday, so time is running out, especially for those students who were expecting to graduate in December.