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For-profit nursing school clear to open Milwaukee campus, aims to expand to Madison

Milwaukee Mayor Cavelier Johnson recently approved a zoning change allowing the Arizona College of Nursing to open as it expands into Wisconsin

Critics of the proposed Arizona College of Nursing campus in Milwaukee pose for a photograph. The Arizona College of Nursing’s Milwaukee campus is set to open after Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson approved a zoning request needed for the campus to open. Courtesy Quinton Cotton

A months-long fight over the fate of a new for-profit nursing school in Milwaukee has to come to a close.

Last week, Milwaukee Mayor Cavelier Johnson approved a zoning change to allow the Arizona College of Nursing to operate in the city.

Since February, several city committees had delayed approving a zoning change to the college’s proposed Milwaukee campus amidst pushback against the college. The Milwaukee Common Council voted June 11 to approve the zoning request, despite council members voicing disapproval for the college. 

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Critics of the Arizona School of Nursing have circulated a petition that’s garnered over 800 signatures, demanding that the college be denied its requested zoning permit. A letter sent to Milwaukee officials also received a letter asking them to vote against the zoning request, signed by leaders from 17 local colleges, including University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marquette University and Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Advocates pushing back against the college argue the campus would threaten existing local nursing programs, as well as harm vulnerable and marginalized students.

The Arizona School of Nursing does have support from some other local organizations, however. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Children’s Wisconsin, Watertown Regional Medical Center and ProHealth Care support the college.

The Arizona College of Nursing chair, Nick Mansour, told the Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee that its students receive quality educational outcomes.

“By primarily focusing on nursing, which will be the sole focus of this campus, our educators are able to continuously evolve, refine and invest in our curriculum that supports our students for their success,” Mansour said.

Cleo Krejci is a reporter with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who’s covered the story for months. She told WPR’s “Wisconsin Today” that this relatively minor zoning change became a flashpoint for local advocates.

“Advocates are saying, ‘Hey, you could use this zoning change request as a method to prevent the Arizona College of Nursing from operating here,’” Krejci said.

Arizona College of Nursing faces questions about 2022 lawsuit, claims they wouldn’t compete for space

Advocates pushing back against the campus have cited a few recurring issues around the college.

The Arizona College of Nursing has 20 different campuses throughout the United States. In 2022, students at a campus in Texas filed a lawsuit against the university alleging a breach of contract, deceptive trade practices and fraud.

“They are saying the school falsely represented that their credits would transfer to other schools and then overcharged for their credit hours,” Krejci said. “The students also alleged that the Arizona College of Nursing unfairly increased the difficulty of the program to encourage students to fail courses.”

The Arizona College of Nursing has refuted the claims of the lawsuit. The case was denied in federal court.

Krejci said it’s unclear whether this new for-profit college will compete for clinical space with established programs in Milwaukee hospitals. Nursing schools require clinical rotations so a nurse-in-training can gain experience working with patients in a real health care setting.

“The Arizona College of Nursing is saying …  that they have secured clinical sites and that they would not overburden the clinical availability or (the) availability of clinical spaces already in the Milwaukee and eastern Wisconsin area,” Krejci said. 

According to Krejci’s reporting, a coalition of advocates protesting the college — called the Higher Education Regional Alliance — says the nursing shortage is due to a lack of clinical space, not a lack of schools.

Advocates express larger concerns surrounding for-profit colleges

Quinton Cotton is a gerontologist and health sciences researcher, as well as co-founder of the Milwaukee Black Grassroots Network for Health Equity. He attended several public meetings to oppose the opening of an Arizona School of Nursing campus in Milwaukee. He says this campus in Milwaukee would undermine the city’s efforts to undo racial harms.

“When we think about who is represented in the health care sector, oftentimes we see that racial and ethnic minorities are concentrated in low-wage health care positions,” Cotton told “Wisconsin Today.”

“Students come from low income backgrounds — veterans, racial and ethnic minorities. They’re promised quick degrees and high paying jobs (by for-profit colleges), and that just hasn’t happened,” he added.

An analysis from the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment finds that students at for-profit colleges are on-average older and more likely to be African American, female and single parents. And a 2022 study published in the Journal of Financial Economics finds students going to for-profit schools take on more debt and are more likely to default on their student loans than people attending comparable public schools. 

Cotton says that, despite the state’s nursing workforce shortage, the city shouldn’t support a college like the Arizona College of Nursing.

“We absolutely need more opportunities for students to get involved in nursing as a profession,” Cotton said. “But we should not do so with predators.”

The Arizona College of Nursing plans to open a campus in Madison next spring.

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