TAMPA, Fla. — A Tampa Bay nursing school with a record of complaints that lost accreditation and is on probation with the state because of licensing test failure rates continues to recruit students for the $20,000 program.
“It’s ruined my life, pretty much. I am out all that money. All that time,” Elizabeth Ford said.
Ford enrolled in the Medical Prep Institute of Tampa Bay, called MPI, in November 2019, after the school offered her a $5,000 scholarship to offset some of the tuition.
She said she was told she could become a registered nurse in less than a year.
“When they say it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. I found out,” Ford said.
Ford soon learned the school lost accreditation, meaning other schools won’t accept transferred credits and students could no longer receive federal financial aid.
“It was cash, check, credit card, however students could make their payment. There’s no loans or anything,” Ford said.
Then in 2020, the Florida Board of Nursing placed Medical Prep Institute’s associate degree nursing program on probation for poor passing rates on the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Licensure or NCLEX exam.
In 2018 and 2019, only 68 and 69% of MPI students passed the test, compared to 85% who passed nationwide.
“It’s basically a self-learning environment. You have to be able to read on your own, learn on your own and that’s basically how it works,” Ford said.
The school’s director, Fadziso Jena, is a former certified nursing assistant whose state license expired in 2010, a year after MPI opened, according to state records.
Jena was arrested in 2013 for failing to provide workers compensation insurance for her employees and was charged with workers compensation fraud. She successfully completed a pretrial intervention program.
Hillsborough County Clerk of Court has recorded IRS liens against MPI totaling $262,000 for federal unemployment taxes, corporate taxes and fines for failure to file correct information.
Half-a-dozen former MPI students shared their disappointment with the education they received at the school and in the nursing homes where they were supposed to practice the skills they learned.
“Any hands-on clinical skills that you would normally do in a lab setting, we weren’t able to do,” said former Student Katherine Cyr.
“We didn’t have the correct things, so we could never learn an I-V, we couldn’t learn Foley care,” former student Ashley Ferrari said.
“The dummies were so old, it looked like they got them out of a dumpster,” said former student Tequila Kirkland.
And students say they were rushed through courses.
“We did not have the education. They would just… hurry up, hurry up. Read, read. You passed, move on, move on, move on,” former student Neffie Diaz said.
The state requires students to perform 699 hours of hands-on clinical experience in a hospital or health care facility to be licensed.
But the MPI students we spoke to say they were sent to work cleaning bedpans and changing diapers at a local nursing home.
“That was the only clinical site I got to go to. And even then, I didn’t really learn anything,” said Ashley Ferrari.
"We literally didn’t get anything out of clinicals. Anything. I’ve been a CNA for a little over 12 years and I was pretty much doing CNA work," Diaz said.
Students Nina Marshall and Tequila Kirkland complained about doing the work of a Certified Nursing Assistant. A paid job Kirkland was already doing.
"I was like, I just got off an eight-hour shift," Kirkland said. "And I've got to go change more diapers for free now."
GRADUATION & REMEDIATION
The students even attended a "graduation ceremony" dressed in caps and gowns with their families flying into Tampa to attend the ceremony.
Tequila Kirkland, who describes herself as a "first-generation college student," spoke of seeing her mom "so happy at my accomplishment."
"They announced our name. That was a big thing for all of us," Ashley Ferrari said. "We were like… finally!"
But none of the students we interviewed received diplomas. They were told they had to take remediation classes, part of a new school policy developed after MPI was placed on probation for low test scores.
The letter the students received from MPI state the school had "the right to change policies at any time” and was adding the remediation class “to provide you and the school reassurance you will be passing the NCLEX."
The remediation was never-ending, Elizabeth Ford said.
"They told us two weeks, and then one more week and then two days a week," Ford said.
"The reason why they won’t release my transcripts is because they’re saying that the exit exams, I failed," Neffie Diaz said. "And they want me to spend $2,000 for a refresher course."
MPI boasted that its NCLEX pass rate was 100% in 2020. But only seven students took the test all year. In 2018, 47 students took the exam.
Ford complained to the Florida Board of Education when she couldn't get her transcripts and was unable to take the exam.
"There was no kind of investigating when a student filed a complaint with the Department of Education," Ford said. "They would just take that complaint, send it to the school. Let the school reply. Once they replied, they were just okay with that and would close the complaint."
MPI blamed its probationary status on student cheating, telling the state:
“We have discovered numerous instances of cheating and academic integrity violations. We have made changes through our remediation program and changes to the testing process to ensure academic integrity”
Eleven days later, the state closed the case on MPI and the nine student complaints it received last year. The school's responses were deemed satisfactory and the investigations were closed, the Florida Department of Education told the I-Team.
We failed in the numerous attempts we made to get a response from Fadziso Jena. We emailed her and the dean of the school twice. We called both and left messages.
We visited Jena's home and handed a business card to a woman who identified herself as Jena's mother. And we sent Jena a registered letter requesting comment on the students' complaints and to allow her to correct or respond to the information we found in public records.
Elizabeth Ford has been trying for months to get her transcripts.
"I need my transcripts so I can move on and find another institution that actually is accredited that I can finish with them and they can send me to the boards to take my test," Ford said.
Meanwhile, Medical Prep Institute continues to recruit new students, even responding to the I-Team through Facebook Messenger that a new class would be starting next month.
"No student going forward should ever have to go through what me and the other students went through," Ford said. "It’s such a heartbreak in the end."
If you want to file a complaint against a Florida nursing school, contact the Florida Board of Education. File a Complaint (fldoe.org)