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ECC’s radiation therapy program seeks to regain footing after being put on probation

Erie Community College’s radiation therapy program – placed on probation last month – has until the fall of 2017 to turn things around.

A national accrediting body cited the program for lacking enough clinical instruction for students and poor student pass rates on the credential exam for certification in radiation therapy.

“They’re giving us a year and a half to clean up this issue,” Richard Washousky, executive vice president for academic affairs, told ECC trustees at a meeting this week. “With all the things we’re doing – we’ve been working on this pretty aggressively the past couple months – I think we’ll be in compliance.”

The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiological Technology requires programs to maintain a five-year average credentialing examination rate of at least 75 percent. Between 2011 and 2015, ECC recorded an average pass rate of 71 percent. The accrediting agency also said that ECC, over the five years, placed 23 of 32 graduates into jobs within 12 months. The 72 percent placement rate fell below the 75 percent required for accreditation.

Washousky said pass rates already are improving, with 86 percent of ECC students passing the 2015 credentialing exam. College officials are awaiting the results of the most recent exam.

The college soon expects to purchase new simulator technology that will make it easier for students to fulfill their clinical requirements. The equipment will allow students to practice in the classroom and “will enhance tremendously the experience for students,” Washousky said in an interview following the meeting.

Washousky said he doubted the probation would hurt interest in the program, which he called strong.

The program, which has been accredited since 1974, accepts about 20 new students each fall. It’s one of the most academically rigorous at the college. But it has been a program in transition, with its longtime director retiring unexpectedly in the winter, Washousky said.

The college was required to notify all students in the program, as well as prospective students, of the probation. It must submit a progress report by Aug. 29 to the accrediting agency, which will evaluate the report and decide whether to maintain or withdraw accreditation.

The probation will have no impact on students’ ability to get degrees, become certified in radiation therapy or get jobs in the field, Washousky said.

“We don’t like being on probation. I don’t think anybody does,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to affect the students that are coming in. They’ve been made fully aware of it, though.”

In other developments:

• President Jack Quinn announced a tentative groundbreaking date of Aug. 24 for a $30 million academic building for the North Campus. The groundbreaking was supposed to have happened this spring, but the original structure of the contract with the construction manager was changed in midstream, forcing a rebidding of seven prime contracts. Those bid responses are due back June 1 and are scheduled to be opened on June 3.

• Ben Packer, executive vice president for student affairs at ECC, told trustees he is leaving the college for a similar post at BYU-Idaho, where he had worked from 2004 to 2009. Packer began in 2013 as associate vice president of enrollment management.