Over the past year, California Northstate University (CNU) has gone full steam ahead pursuing its ambitious plan to build a hospital in Elk Grove, despite the fact that its current operation in Elk Grove as a medical and pharmacy school has come under scrutiny by the State of California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE). Specifically, CNU’s ability to advertise and offer a “Bachelor of Science-to-Doctor of Medicine (BS-MD)” program and a “Bachelor of Science-to-Doctor of Pharmacy (BS-PharmD)” program is currently in question and CNU is in the midst of appealing a citation issued by BPPE in July 2019. During the appeal process, CNU has chosen to continue advertising the BS-MD and BS-PharmD programs to potential undergraduate students.
A recent check of the BPPE website revealed the citation was modified on November 20, 2019, a few months after an informal conference with CNU. The fine was reduced to $5,001 and the wording was slightly modified regarding what CNU has to submit to be permitted to offer the two programs at issue. No other substantive changes were made, CNU must still immediately cease offering these two programs and litigation likely continues.
In April of 2018, BPPE conducted an unannounced compliance inspection at CNU. During the inspection, the Bureau found that “the Institution did not have the administrative staff available onsite to provide immediate access to student and institutional records.” CNU’s “representative” was the only person who had access to that information and could not retrieve it while out of the office. Therefore, BPPE issued CNU a “notice to comply” for the several violations that were detected.
Over a year later, it appeared that CNU had not minded the notice to comply, and on July 19, 2019, BPPE followed up by issuing a citation, “Assessment of fine and order of abatement,” related to violations discovered during the April 2018 inspection. The fine was assessed at $6,501.00. https://bppe.ca.gov/enforcement/actions/1920015_calif_northstate_abate.pdf
Violations included that CNU was found to be advertising on its website and in its catalog a BS-MD program and a BS-PharmD program, neither of which were approved by the Bureau. They were therefore ordered by the Bureau to cease offering those programs. Several other violations were discovered that related to the reporting and maintenance of records, including but not limited to:
- CNU using the wrong format on its 2015/2016 School Performance Fact Sheet (SPFS)
- CNU including an unallowable disclosure in their Job Placement Rates section for the Doctor of Pharmacy program
- CNU reporting 150% completion rates but failing to report four years data
- CNU failing to report the Job Placement Rates and Gainful Employment Categories for the Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences (BSHS) program
- CNU failing to accurately report “Graduates Employed in the Field” for their Doctor of Pharmacy program
- CNU failing to list the License Examination Passage Rates table for the BSHS program
On October 28, 2019, Neighbors Ensuring Stonelake Transparency (NEST) sent a Public Records Act (PRA) request to BPPE, specifically asking for the following:
- A copy of any appeal and/or “written request for appeal” that CNU filed in response to the citation
- Any documents filed for any appeal of the citation, including but not limited to any pleadings presenting arguments by CNU or the State of California regarding the citation
- The final decision and/or order issued in any appeal of the citation and/or any documents revealing the present status of the appeal
On November 8, 2019, BPPE invoked the provision of the PRA allowing for a 14-day extension. Then, on November 27, 2019, BPPE provided its final PRA response to NEST, stating BPPE had conducted a review of records and could respond, in part, to NEST’s request. BPPE confirmed that CNU representative, Paul Wagstaffe, had indeed submitted an appeal to the citation on August 19, 2019, and they provided a copy of the appeal. However, BPPE refused to provide any further information relevant to the citation or any pending investigation, citing “privilege from disclosure with respect to ‘official information’ acquired in confidence by a public employee in the course of his or her duty if disclosure is forbidden by an act of U.S. Congress or a state statute” and that “it is against public interest to disclose the information.”
This response leaves far more questions than answers. Why is CNU allowed to continue advertising (possibly to high school students) two programs that have not been approved by BPPE, particularly when BPPE informed CNU to cease and desist offering these unapproved programs? At a recent CNU “Open House” on October 26, 2019, these two programs were still advertised to prospective students. How is it “against public interest” to provide records relating to this matter when prospective CNU students are weighing the high costs and potential benefits in participating in one of these two unapproved programs? Are prospective students notified in any way that these two programs are unapproved? https://www.eventbrite.com/e/california-northstate-university-fall-open-house-tickets-63315134271#
Whatever the case may be, it is apparent that CNU leaders did not respond to a notice of deficiency to the State’s satisfaction, which resulted in a citation and litigation. In order to safely and responsibly operate a hospital, CNU would be expected to comply with many demands of the State and its residents seeking health care. CNU’s inability to conduct the business of their private college in compliance with the demands of BPPE continues to heighten concerns about their lack of experience and ability to operate a hospital in Elk Grove.