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Nursing Education National League for Nursing - Excellence Initiatives

Questions About The COE Program Itself

How is the COE process different from the accreditation process?
There are three (3) major differences between the COE process and the accreditation process. First, accreditation focuses on a particular program while the COE process focuses on the entire school of nursing. Second, accreditation focuses on all program areas while the COE process focuses on an area in which the school excels. And third, the role of the site visitor in the accreditation process is to verify, clarify, and amplify material presented in the self study report, while the COE consultant’s role is to guide the school in identifying and documenting its strengths, weaknesses and uniqueness prior to submission of the final report, and then to offer suggestions about preparation of that final application.

Can we have an accreditation and a COE visit within the same academic year?
Yes, it is possible. You should realize that having both visits in the same academic year is likely to be very time consuming for faculty, and the nature of the report and visit for each process are quite different (since the focus of COE and accreditation are distinctly different [see FAQ #1]). However, it is your decision, and the COE program places no constraints on engaging in both processes in the same year.

Can we apply in more than one category?
Yes, a school may apply for COE designation in more than one category in a given “cycle” or apply for designation in different categories in consecutive cycles. It is possible, therefore, for a school to hold COE designation in more than one area simultaneously. Faculty and administrators need to realize, however, that each application requires a separate document, separate fees, and separate consultant visits. This requires extensive human and material resources, but if your school wishes to pursue this course of action, there is nothing to prohibit it.

How long does COE designation last?
COE designation is granted for a 3-year period. During the last of those 3 years, the school would need to complete the entire process (i.e., initial application and fee, consultant visit, and final application and fee) and once again be recommended for COE designation by the committee and approved for this honor by the NLN Board of Governors. Continuation of designation as an NLN Center of Excellence in Nursing Education is not automatic.

What kind of recognition will my school receive, if we are designated as an NLN Center of Excellence in Nursing Education?
COE-designated schools are presented at the NLN Education Summit, which occurs each September and is attended by approximately 1,000 nurse educators. These schools also are announced in NLN publications and in an advertisement in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Press releases are sent to national and local media (nursing, education and general), and information about COE-designated schools is posted on the NLN Website, with a link to the school’s own Website. Finally, each COE-designated school is provided with a logo that it can use on stationary, the website, or other appropriate material (notepads, etc.).

When is COE designation awarded?
The committee generally meets in June. Their recommendations are forwarded to the NLN Board of Governors, who make the decision about designating schools as NLN Centers of Excellence. All schools participating in the process are notified of the Board’s decision in July. Those schools receiving COE designation are expected to attend the NLN Education Summit in September to receive official awarding of this status.

Do all of the programs our school offers have to be accredited by NLNAC in order to seek COE designation?
Designation as a Center of Excellence assumes that all programs offered by a school have met standards as outlined by the State Board of Nursing and a nursing accrediting body. Therefore, the school must be in good standing with Board of Nursing in its State, and each of its programs (with the exception of the doctoral program, for which there is no accreditation) must be fully accredited by either the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Does our school have to be a member of the NLN in order to pursue COE designation?
No, your school does not have to be member of the NLN to seek or obtain designation as an NLN Center of Excellence in Nursing Education. The fee structure, however, is designed to benefit NLN member schools.

Our school has an undergraduate and graduate program. Will the designation apply to both programs?
Yes. Designation as an NLN Center of Excellence is given to the school as a whole, and not to individual programs offered by that school. Therefore, the application must speak to how criteria are met for all programs offered, and when COE designation is awarded to a school, all programs offered by that school are included.

When we submit our application, do we need to address all programs offered by our school?
Yes. Designation as an NLN Center of Excellence is given to the school as a whole, and not to individual programs offered by that school. Therefore, the application must speak to how criteria are met for all programs offered and how the environments created by the school pervade all programs. When COE designation is awarded to a school, all programs offered by that school are included

Our school has multiple sites. Do all sites need to participate?
Schools with multiple sites are encouraged to contact the NLN to discuss your particular situation and how to address that in your COE application. Generally, if your school’s sites are merely locations away from the main campus where courses are offered on a regular or sporadic basis, it is assumed that those courses (as well as the students enrolled in them and the faculty who teach them) are part of your school and will be included in the application. However, if your school’s sites are independent campuses with their own faculty, program of study, degree-granting privileges, accreditation status, and so on, then each of those sites would need to pursue COE designation separately, as they would not be included in your application. Given that there are so many possibilities related to multiple-site schools, you are asked to contact the NLN prior to submission of your initial application.

Is the COE program only for schools with baccalaureate and graduate programs?
No. Schools that offer any type of nursing program -- practical nurse, associate degree, diploma, baccalaureate, master’s, and/or doctoral -- may apply for designation as an NLN Center of Excellence in Nursing Education. If more than one program exists in your school, your application must address how the environments created pervade all programs and how all criteria are met in relation to each program.

We have an interim or acting dean/director/chairperson. Does this disqualify us from applying for COE designation?
No. The designation is intended for the school of nursing. If the resources in the school are adequate to complete the applications and pay all fees, the application will be considered by the committee.

How does the COE designation relate to the NLN’s Hallmark’s of Excellence in Nursing Education©?
The NLN’s Hallmark’s of Excellence in Nursing Education© may be used as a guide to determine whether your school is committed to and characterized by excellence. The COE criteria are congruent with the NLN Hallmarks of Excellence in Nursing Education©, but they are not duplicative of them.

Do we have to meet all the criteria in the category we select, or only a certain number of them?
In order to be recommended for COE designation, a school must demonstrate that it has met all the criteria in the selected category and, for those schools offering more than one program, demonstrate that the criteria are met in relation to students and faculty involved in teaching all of those programs. It is important, therefore, that you carefully read all the criteria in each category before making your decision regarding participation in the COE program.

If my parent organization does not support our decision to apply for COE designation, can I still apply?
While parent organization support is not a specific criterion in any of the COE categories, it would be beneficial to the process. A school that does not have support from its institution to pursue and be acknowledged for excellence may need to reflect on the reasons for such circumstances and whether it affects their efforts to achieve and continually sustain environments of excellence.

How much does it cost to pursue designation as an NLN Center of Excellence in Nursing Education?
Fees that must accompany the initial and final applications are published on the NLN website and in the COE promotional flyer. They are based on the number of graduates from all programs in your school for the preceding year and whether or not your school is a member of the NLN. These fees were formulated based on a careful analysis of similar recognition programs (e.g., hospital magnet status, the Baldwin award), and the sliding-scale model based on the number of graduates is consistent with how NLN calculates membership rates for schools. Fees for the consultant's visit are variable and include travel costs (including ground transportation), hotel expenses, and meals. It is expected that the consultant will work with you to make the visit as economical as possible without unduly burdening her/him (e.g., having to change planes 3 times and take 12 hours to travel to your school in order to save $100 in airfare).

If we are successful in the application process and are awarded COE designation, can we use the NLN logo?
While you will not be able to use the NLN logo itself, there is a special COE logo that will be available to you and that you are encouraged to use.

Can we use the COE designation to marketing our school to potential students, potential faculty, or other groups?
Absolutely. Once your school is designated as an NLN Center of Excellence in Nursing Education, you may use that information in any marketing strategy, provided that the years of your designation (e.g., 2005-2008) are included.

How does the Centers of Excellence program compare with the magnet status program available to hospitals?
Just as the magnet status program identifies a hospital as a premier health care institution, designation as an NLN Center of Excellence in Nursing Education offers a similar distinction for academic institutions. In both instances, the designation is conferred upon the entire nursing unit (i.e., the hospital nursing service or school of nursing itself) and not on any single component of it (e.g., only the ICU or only the baccalaureate program).

Questions About The COE Processes

How do we decide which category to pursue for COE designation?
The choice of category to pursue for COE designation is a decision that the faculty and nursing administration of each school makes based on its strengths, goals, and areas of distinction. It is suggested that the faculty engage in extended discussions of the extent to which they meet the NLN Hallmarks of Excellence in Nursing Education© (available at, as well as the goals they have set for the school. The focus of the COE program is to distinguish those schools that (a) demonstrate sustained, evidence-based and substantive innovation in a selected area, (b) conduct ongoing research to document the effectiveness of such innovation, (c) set high standards for themselves, and (d) are committed to continuous quality improvement. Thus, your school needs to identify the area in which you demonstrate excellence and in which you have created an environment that all faculty are committed to sustaining for all programs offered.

There are terms in the criteria that can be interpreted in a number of ways. Is there a glossary to define these terms?
No. A deliberate decision was made not to include a glossary so that each school can define what terms mean in its particular context. Your responses to the criteria should speak to your unique characteristics and how excellence pervades all aspects of your school.

Are any schools turned down after the initial application?
No. The purpose of the initial application is for the school to notify the NLN of its intent to pursue COE designation and the category it will pursue. The decision regarding COE designation is made only after the school submits its final application.

What is the purpose of the initial application?
The initial application is the means by which a school formally notifies the NLN of its intent to pursue COE designation and the category it will pursue. It also provides information about the college/university and the nursing unit that is used when assigning the consultant and that then provides a context for the consultant who will visit the school.

How long does our final application have to be?
There are no minimal or maximum limits for the length of the final application. It is recommended, however, that the document be clear and succinct in describing how the school has created the environment related to the particular COE category selected. It also is recommended that any supplemental material that may be included with the application (e.g., DVDs, testimonials, etc.) be powerful, informative, and complement the narrative. It is the responsibility of the school to provide convincing evidence that all criteria in the selected category have been met for all faculty and/or all programs offered by the school.

If we are unsuccessful with our application, can we reapply during the following year in the same category?
Absolutely. Given that your school has contributed significant time and resources to developing the COE application, a reapplication in the same area seems most prudent. You need to realize, however, that you may need more time to “put pieces in place” that would help you be more successful in the review process or that another category may be more appropriate for your school. The final decisions about reapplying in the following year and the category to pursue rest with the school.

If we re-apply, do we have to pay all new fees?
Yes, all fees need to be paid when a school reapplies after an unsuccessful bid for COE designation, and another consultant visit will be scheduled. Resources are needed to process an application (whether it is a new one or a revised one) and to implement the COE program, and fees need to be collected to cover those costs.

If our school initiates but fails to complete the process in a given year, will the initial application fee be refunded?
No, the NLN has invested resources to implement the COE program based on projected program costs related to processing application, selecting and preparing consultants, maintaining records, and carrying out other aspects of the program. These costs are incurred regardless of whether or not a school completion of the process in a given year.

How long does it take to complete the process from beginning to end?
The process to pursue designation as an NLN Center of Excellence in Nursing Education begins well before the submission of the initial application. It begins with the school engaging in discussions about whether you are “ready” to apply and the category in which you will apply. Once these decisions have been made, the formal process begins with the submission of the initial application by October 15th. The consultant visit is typically scheduled sometime in February or March, and the final application is due by May 31st. Notification of the award occurs in July, and the actual presentation is made at the NLN Education Summit in September. The formal process, therefore, takes approximately 9 months.

Which parts of the application process are kept confidential?
All parts of the application process are kept confidential. The NLN staff, consultant, and committee members keep all information related to COE applications confidential. It is the school’s decision to share information about its application for COE designation, the consultant visit, or the outcome of the process.

How are faculty involved in the process?
Each school will determine the extent to which faculty are involved in the process of applying for COE designation. For example, the decision to pursue this designation and the category in which to apply both may be decisions of the total faculty. Faculty also may be involved in preparing the initial and/or final application, meeting with the Consultant during her/his visit, or attending the Summit if the designation is awarded .

How are students involved in the process?
The extent of student involvement in the COE process is likely to depend on the category you select. If your school chooses the “Student” category, students are likely to play an integral role, perhaps by helping to prepare the initial and/or final application, meeting with the consultant during her/his visit to your school, providing testimonials for inclusion in the final application, or attending the Summit if the designation is awarded.

How is the administration involved in the process?
The dean/director/chairperson may initiate the process by inviting faculty to consider pursuing COE designation. She/He also may be the one to arrange and facilitate forums where faculty discuss the extent to which the school is fulfilling the NLN Hallmarks of Excellence in Nursing ©, the COE category the school might pursue, and the distinctive features of the school that should be highlighted in the application. The dean/director/ chairperson also participates actively in such discussions, may be involved in preparing parts of the initial and/or final application, facilitates the consultant visit and meets with that individual, serves as the contact person throughout the process, and secures resources to facilitate the process.

If we are unable to complete the process, will a refund be given?
Once the fees are submitted, there are no refunds.

How do we start the process?
Once your school has decided to pursue COE designation in a particular category, you start the “formal” process by submitting the initial application and appropriate fee. The initial application asks for descriptive information about your school, a brief summary of activities related to each criterion in the category you have selected, and information about how you learned about the program and how you expect COE designation will benefit your school. All these materials are due on or before October 15th.

If a program is not successful in the application process, is there an appeal mechanism that can be pursued?
No. The decision of the NLN Board of Governors is final, and there is no appeal process. Schools that are not successful in the process are provided with feedback about the weaknesses noted by the COE committee, and they are invited to contact the NLN for clarification of any of those points.

What kind of feedback can we expect if we fail to receive designation as an NLN Center of Excellence?
If your school is not successful in your application for designation as an NLN Center of Excellence, you will receive a list of weaknesses noted by the committee as they reviewed and discussed your application. These points will relate to the criteria that were published and used as the basis for the committee's recommendation to the NLN Board of Governors.

What should our final application convey?
Your final application should document how each criterion has been met and “tell the story” of how you create environments that pervade all the programs you offer and all faculty endeavors. This application should include a comprehensive description of activities and initiatives in which your school is engaged that provide evidence of how you have met each criterion. It may be accompanied by such documentation as videos, Websites, CDs, conference brochures, etc., but you should remember that any such supplemental material (a) is not required, (b) should not be burdensome to the Review Panel, (c) should be powerful in helping to “tell your story,” and (d) should complement, rather than repeat, the narrative.

Who decides whether or not a school receives COE designation?
All applications are thoroughly reviewed by the COE committee, submits their recommendations regarding COE designation to the NLN Board of Governors, and it is that body that makes the final decision about awarding COE designation to a school.

How will we be notified of the final decision about our application for COE designation?
The committee typically meets in June and forwards their recommendations to the Board of Governors. All applicant schools are notified in writing of the Board’s decision sometime in July, and those schools not recommended for COE status are informed of the weaknesses in their application.

Are any extensions granted during the process?
There are no extensions granted during the process. Schools are encouraged to develop timelines for completion of the COE process (including the preparation and mailing of the final application) at the outset of the process or at least prior to sending in the initial application. If, after submitting the initial application and/or the consultant visit, a school decides not to continue in the process, the NLN staff should be notified.

Questions about the Consultant and Supports Available

How are people selected to be on the COE committee or to serve as Consultants?
All Consultants and committee members must be current members of the National League for Nursing. The NLN issues a “call” to its members to nominate themselves or their colleagues for these important roles. In addition, COE schools are asked to nominate individuals for these roles, and those who fulfilled either role in the past are asked about their interest in continuing. The qualifications for each role are clearly defined in the “call” that is issued, and all nominations are reviewed by the NLN’s Director of Excellence Initiatives & the chair of the COE committee, which then makes all appointments. Individuals are chosen who have (a) extensive experience and current knowledge of trends and issues in nursing education, (b) a commitment to excellence and innovation, (c) an openness to new ideas; and (d) an ability to review material objectively. An attempt is made to have a balance in the consultant group and in the committee members of new and continuing individuals, and individuals from COE-designated and non-COE-designated schools.

Can we contact the consultant after the visit?
Each school and its assigned consultant should discuss this issue at the time of the visit to decide on arrangements for further contact. Consultants typically are willing to make themselves available after the visit, but the school needs to realize that consultants are not expected or required to provide extensive consultation afterwards, review materials, or engage in any other activities once their report is submitted to the school.

Who pays for the Consultant’s visit?
The school assumes all costs for the on-site consultant visit, including travel, meals, and lodging expenses. These arrangements are made by the school in collaboration with the consultant. It is expected that consultants will submit an expense report to the school as soon as possible after the visit and that schools will reimburse the consultant for these expenses in a timely fashion.

Does the consultant receive an honorarium?
No, the consultant does not receive an honorarium for making the visit. All consultants volunteer their time and expertise to support the Centers of Excellence program.

How is the Consultant’s report used in making the final decision about a school’s application?
The consultant’s written report is the property of the school, and is not used by the committee or the NLN Board of Governors in making recommendations or decisions regarding COE designation. The letter should not be included in the school’s final application, nor should it be submitted to the NLN.

Is it necessary to have a consultant visit, if our school has previously undergone the process?
No. The consultant visit is optional for all COE designated schools applying for continued COE designation.

Will our school be assigned a different consultant, if we are not successful the first time we apply for COE designation?
The NLN will assign a different consultant to a school that reapplies after an unsuccessful application. However, if that school wishes to have the same consultant return, the request will be considered.

May we contact COE-designated schools for advice?
Yes, the NLN highly recommends that schools applying for the COE designation contact schools that have already received this honor to solicit information that will be helpful to them. It is important to remember, however, that every school has a unique character and an individualized way of presenting its excellence. Therefore, what “made sense” for one school may not be appropriate for your school, and you need to remember to focus on the distinctiveness and excellence of your particular program as you prepare your initial and final applications.

If we think there is a conflict of interest with the assigned consultant, can we ask for a different one?
Yes. If either the school or the consultant believes a conflict of interest exists, the NLN will assign a new Consultant.

What kind of support, other than a consultant, can we expect from NLN in preparing our application?
It is the consultant’s responsibility to offer suggestions to the school regarding preparation of its final application. If you have questions related to the overall COE program, or any procedural matters, you are invited to contact the NLN’s Director of Excellence Initiatives for clarification and assistance. Depending on the nature of your question, you may be referred to a member of the COE committee (which oversees the COE program and appoints consultants), schools that currently hold COE designation, or a member of the NLN staff.

What can we expect from the consultant before, during, and after her/his visit to our school?
The purpose of the consultant’s visit is to help you to (a) understand the criteria in the COE category you have chosen, (b) highlight the strengths and distinctiveness of your school, and (c) identify ways in which you can “tell your story” in the final application. Prior to the visit, the consultant will talk with the dean/director/chairperson about the range of activities in which she/he may be involved during the visit, and together they will decide on a plan of action, individuals or groups with whom the consultant will meet, and dates and other details of the visit. During her/his 1-2-day visit, the consultant will most likely meet with individual or groups of faculty and the dean/director/chairperson. If you are pursuing designation in the “Student” category, it may be helpful for the consultant to meet with individual or groups of students. If you are pursuing designation in the “Faculty” category, she/he may want to talk more extensively with individual faculty. And if you are pursuing designation in the “Research” category, the consultant may review pedagogical projects in which faculty and students are involved. Unlike the program evaluator during an accreditation site visit, the consultant will not be expected to visit clinical sites, talk with college/university administrators, review faculty or student files, review course syllabi and student products, and so on. However, if you think that some of these activities would be helpful in “telling your story” to the consultant, they certainly can be arranged. In all instances, the activities in which the consultant engages during her/his visit to your school are determined in collaboration with you, and there are no “must do” activities built into the COE process. Our evaluations have indicated that the most helpful activities in which the consultant engages are the following: meeting with the faculty as a group, meeting with individual faculty, meeting with the dean/director/chair, and meeting with students. Within 2 weeks of the consultant’s visit, the dean/director/chairperson will receive a written report that summarizes the visit. You and the consultant may negotiate follow-up discussions regarding your application or the COE program.

What is the role of the NLN staff in this process?
The NLN staff consults with the COE committee to assign the consultant for your school. Staff also are available to answer questions and give guidance, as needed, to schools and consultants. When the committee meets, NLN staff provide support to that group. Finally, all written communications, excluding the consultant report, come from the NLN.

Does the consultant confer with the committee or with anyone else involved in the process?
Although the consultant may confer with NLN staff prior to or during the visit to clarify questions, she/he does not confer with the committee, nor is her/his report shared with that recommending body.

Who sees the Consultant report?
The consultant’s report is sent directly to the school and is not shared with the committee, NLN staff, or any other individuals. If the school wishes to share this report with anyone, that is the school’s decision.

How long should we expect the consultant to stay at our school?
Our data show that the average amount of time the consultant spends with faculty and others is 8-12 hours, over a 1- or 2-day period. The specific amount of time the consultant would be at your school would be dependent on your needs and the availability of the consultant.



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