If you don’t want to endure 61 seconds of sentimental piano lines, here’s the gist: Sarah, a young woman who used to work at a diner, has just finished a degree at Kaplan University. She changes her social-media status from “waitress” to “registered nurse.” Boom: Her entire town is wrapped in Capra-esque sunshine. Sarah’s friends, loved ones, and distant acquaintances smile wistfully. Is there a fist-bump? Yes, there is.
Throughout the ad, there’s no doubt that Sarah has not previously been a nurse. (Clue: One of her status updates is “First day as a nurse!”)
That seemed a little mysterious as I sat there next to the radial tires and stale coffee. Kaplan has large, longstanding online programs for nurses who want to extend their educations: RN-to-BSN programs, master’s degrees, and so on. (For all I know, those programs are excellent. Nothing here is meant to disparage them.)
But does Kaplan really have a substantial prelicensure nursing program — a program for people who aren’t yet nurses? That wouldn’t be easy for a mostly-online institution to build: You’d need to create simulation labs, arrange relationships with clinical sites, etc., etc.
I drove home (the car had no trouble starting, for once) and looked up the numbers:
- Kaplan offers prelicensure nursing programs in Maine, Iowa, and Nebraska. The small-print disclosure at the end of the ad — “Programs may vary by location” — might be more honestly phrased as “This program is available almost nowhere.”
- According to Kaplan’s 2013-14 Academic Report, which you can download here, 207 Kaplan graduates took the NCLEX-RN exam for the first time in 2014. Sixty percent of them passed. (That’s almost 22 percentage points below the national average for first-time U.S.-educated NCLEX test-takers that year.)
- In 2014, Kaplan’s Nebraska program had the state’s worst NCLEX pass rate, and its Iowa program had the state’s third-worst rate.
- The sticker price of Kaplan’s Iowa/Nebraska associate’s-degree nursing program (you can download the numbers here via the “Campus” tab) is $35,763. Meanwhile, at Iowa’s Kirkwood Community College (NCLEX pass rate: 94%), the cost for state residents is well under half of that.
What’s most head-spinning about the Sarah’s First Day As a Nurse ad isn’t that Kaplan’s prelicensure nursing programs are expensive, or that they have weak NCLEX pass rates. It’s that they barely exist.
Two hundred and seven prelicensure graduates at Kaplan in 2014. That’s a small fraction of the 13,454 degrees Kaplan awarded that year. And it’s a tiny sliver of the 157,000 first-time NCLEX test-takers nationally in 2014. Kaplan simply isn’t a player in this arena.
So why spend tens of thousands of dollars on a gauzy ad celebrating the program? And why broadcast it on a local Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C., hundreds of miles from where anyone can actually enroll in it?
(I saw the ad last week, but it apparently isn’t new. It was posted on YouTube in September 2013.)
Are they hoping that Congressional staffers in D.C. will see the ads and get a warm fuzzy feeling and decide yet again to go soft on regulating for-profit higher education?
Or are they hoping to get admissions queries from ambitious underpaid D.C. workers who dream of being nurses, and then bait-and-switch them into some other kind of program? (Hopefully not something like this illegally-operated medical-assistant program.)
I’m not sure I want to know the answers to those questions.
You may have seen the stories this week about the Texas woman who lost an eye to a bacterial infection after a mud run. She’s uninsured, and she reportedly faces $100,000 in medical debt. That’s probably roughly what it cost to pay the actors, graphic designers, and sentimental musicians who put together Kaplan’s ad for a barely-existent nursing program. Couldn’t that money have been spent on something real?