LAS CRUCES >> President Renay Scott announced Wednesday that Doña Ana Community College's nursing program has been re-accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. The news means the 11 students who graduated from the program in May are considered to have graduated from a nationally accredited program. The accreditation is good for five years.

Scott called the news a "significant step" for the college and the program.

"This is a momentous occasion," Scott said Wednesday at DACC's Central Campus, where the program is housed.

The program, which lost its accreditation from the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission in August 2012, has seen some major changes since that time. Margie Huerta, who was president of DACC at the time, left the position in June 2013 to be a special assistant to New Mexico State University President Garrey Carruthers. Scott took over as the president of the college in June 2014.

NLNAC, the accrediting commission, changed its name to ACEN in 2013.

Carruthers, who was present at Wednesday's press conference, called it "a banner day."

"This allows us to close the book on this chapter," Carruthers said Wednesday. Carruthers is chancellor of the NMSU system, which includes DACC. He said losing the accreditation stymied enrollment.

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"With nursing, it has traditionally been an issue with capacity," Carruthers said. "I'm going to guess that the college will now have an opportunity to increase the size of their class. And, from my view, we need to find the resources if they have to add more faculty to meet the demand."

Scott said the program currently employs seven full-time faculty members, a full-time director of nursing and a full-time secretary.

Scott said attracting faculty was difficult, given the demand for nurses in the field, but that the college has secured legislative funding "to allow us to remain competitive with the field we're training for."

Carruthers said the restored status at the nursing school will help meet the statewide demand for nurses.

"I was speaking yesterday with a person from Albuquerque. He said that he could place 200 to 300 nurses right now, today, if he had them," Carruthers said. "The demand is out there. They're essential to health care, and this is a great program for them to go through."

NMSU Student Regent Amanda López Askin was on hand for Wednesday's announcement.

"I work with nurses on a daily basis and am acutely aware of the challenges New Mexico faces in terms of the shortage of health care workers," Askin said. "DACC having an accredited program is an important part of contributing to this much-needed workforce. I'm very proud of the leadership, the faculty and staff's effort in gaining this accreditation and look forward to referring any person interested in becoming a nurse to DACC."

Tracy Lopez, the college's director of nursing, said that re-accreditation was "something we've worked really hard on."

Evaluators from ACEN spent nearly a week in Las Cruces in February, evaluating the program.

Damien Willis can be reached at 575-541-5468.