LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Current and former nursing students have filed a class action lawsuit against Dona Ana Community College based on the school's nursing program losing its national accreditation in Aug. 2012.
The lawsuit was filed in Las Cruces district court on Friday.
In the lawsuit, the students allege that the nursing program was put on "warning" status by the National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) in March 2010.
"Despite the warning, DACC administration failed to take actions required to maintain national accreditation," according to the lawsuit. "The students were not notified of the warning status and were not informed of the loss of national accreditation until August 2012, just two weeks before classes started for the fall semester."
According to the lawsuit, starting as far back as 2002, DACC was repeatedly warned by the NLNAC that it would lose its national accreditation unless it corrected the ratio of faculty members with masters degrees to faculty members with only bachelor degrees, by hiring more faculty with masters degrees or above. However, the students allege, DACC ignored these warnings and continued to hire faculty members that lacked master's degrees.
Students said DACC shifted its spending priorities from instructor salaries to administrative salaries over the last 10 years. From 2006 to 2012, DACC President Dr. Margie Huerta's salary was increased by 58 percent, an average of a $10,000 raise per year, according to the lawsuit.
"The bottom line is they didn't fix it, they didn't take care of it, and they did lose their accreditation. So the students are looking for something to compensate them for the harms that they suffered," attorney Joleen Youngers told ABC-7.
In a 2012 letter from NLNAC to Huerta, the first reason that NLNAC listed for the denial of continued accreditation was that the "majority of the part-time faculty are not credentialed with a minimum of a master's degree with a major in nursing."
Approximately 100 students are part of the suit. The suit alleges they were negatively impacted by DACC's loss of national accreditation.
The students allege that many of the best employers for nurses will not hire nurses who graduate from programs lacking national accreditation. The students also allege that many of them intended to pursue a higher nursing degree but now they cannot do so without unexpected and significant delay and costs, including having to repeat some of their course work.
"Our civil justice system can't go back and fix it. No one can force the school to retroactively become accredited, so they're limited in what they can get. They're seeking some compensation for the harms they've suffered as a result of what they've had to go through," Youngers said.
A spokeswoman for DACC said she could not make any comments because the college had not been served the lawsuit.