Ranger College officials said the school still has a “very good relationship” with the Howard Payne University nursing program during a Wednesday meeting of the local Ranger advisory committee at the college’s Early campus.   

The comments came two weeks after Howard Payne announced the cancellation of a collaborative arrangement between HPU and Ranger College on nursing education. Ranger has since responded with press releases highlighting the former HPU students in its nursing program, but Ranger dean of nursing Carolyn Zapata said perceived tension between the schools is overblown.   

“I have a very good working relationship with [HPU nursing instructor] Laci Sutton,” Zapata said, “and we have mutual students. … We had about 17 students who could not finish at Howard Payne, and they came to us.”   

She said she meets regularly with Sutton and new HPU dean of nursing Dr. Nina Ouimette. “What’s been in the media has been very misleading,” she said.   

In its press release about the dissolution of the nursing agreement, HPU said the arrangement had originated in August 2016 and would have allowed “students admitted to Ranger College’s pre-licensure Associate Degree in Nursing program to live on the HPU campus, participate in the university’s student life activities and … apply for admission to HPU’s post-licensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.”   

The release said no one took advantage of the arrangement and that HPU also did not want to create “confusion” about the its stance on the Ranger annexation efforts. HPU has expressed neutrality on the November ballot initiative.   

Ranger responded last week with a press release titled “Former HPU nursing students speak out.” It quotes two Ranger nursing students who had to leave HPU after the university lost its nursing accreditation.   

Howard Payne is currently involved in litigation after former nursing students sued over the lost accreditation. HPU recently moved to re-establish its nursing program.   

HPU director of media relations Coby Sauce responded to Ranger’s press release last week. “To date, no student, under the terms of the agreement between HPU and Ranger College, has sought the collaborative arrangement of taking part in the student life activities at HPU while being a degree-seeking student at Ranger,” Sauce said. “Further, our university continues to recruit for the post-licensure RN-to-BSN program and will gladly consider any requests made by prospective students on a case-by-case basis.”   

During the advisory committee meeting, Ranger College president Dr. Bill Campion said the collaborative agreement “wasn’t our idea.”   

“When Howard Payne approached us to do this, we were very happy to enter into that agreement,” Campion said. “We really don’t understand the Howard Payne deal. I did get a certified letter from [HPU president] Dr. Ellis telling me that he was cancelling the [agreement] because there were no students interested in it.”   

Zapata said she is “glad to serve” on the HPU nursing advisory committee. “We’re in the same community and we want the same thing — to produce good, competent nurses,” she said. “Our mission is the same.”   

The advisory committee meeting also included presentations on Ranger’s work force development efforts, academics, facilities, cosmetology program, dual-enrollment programs and more. Ranger’s Erath County vice president and former Early High School principal Jennifer Kent also talked through an “FAQ” section of the meeting agenda packet, which focused on the upcoming annexation referendum.   

One of the questions mentioned Trey Trainor, the attorney who oversaw the verification process for the signatures Ranger collected to trigger the November ballot measure. President Trump nominated Trainor to serve on the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday.   

Last week Trainer told the Bulletin the college’s annexation service plan is “legally binding,” though the Texas Education Code says it is “informational only.” The service plan mentions a 21 cent debt-service tax in addition to the 11 cents, but Campion says the debt service will be part of the 11 cents and not additional. Ranger College borrowed $10 million to upgrade its Ranger campus in 2016.   

The service plan can be viewed at docs.rangercollege.edu/servicebrown.pdf.   

Kent encouraged those who oppose additional taxation to contact their legislators about education funding. Public education funding has shifted gradually away from the state and towards local governments in recent decades.   

“We’re not being funded correctly. That is the big story here,” Kent said. “Pick up the phone and call your legislators and let them hear about it.”