Oikos University's students fail nursing-license exams at alarming rates, worrying state regulators.

The Oakland school where seven people were shot to death Monday, apparently by a former nursing student, had caught regulators' attention before Monday's tragedy, said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the state Department of Consumer Affairs. That department includes the Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians, which first licensed Oikos' nursing program in 2008.

Just 41 percent of Oikos graduates passed a national nursing exam last year, among the state's worst rates. The state average was about 75 percent, Heimerich said, and a rate of about 65 percent is acceptable.

"They could be in jeopardy of having their accreditation altered or removed," he said.

Oikos remained closed Tuesday, and neither administrators nor instructors returned phone or email messages. A message on the school's website said classes would be canceled "until further notice."

Although Oikos was required to prove financial stability when the state licensed it, a March 20 lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court indicates that the school may have fallen on hard times. According to documents filed with the court, Oikos failed to pay former employee Jungoak Cha about $75,000 in salary and other expenses. Cha, who could not be reached for comment, also said she loaned the university $10,000 in 2008 and was never repaid. Her attorney also was unavailable.

State regulators plan to keep an eye on the lawsuit, Heimerich said.

Aside from an overall operating license from the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, the nursing-degree license appears to be the only formal approval for any of Oikos' academic programs. The university also offers music and theology degrees, but the school has never sought accreditation from the region's primary agency, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, association officials said Tuesday.

Although Oikos lists Asian medicine among its degrees, the school has never received the license required by the California Acupuncture Board to offer the degree, Heimerich said.

According to documents Oikos filed with the state, only a handful of its 48 graduates in 2010 found jobs after graduation, and none was earning more than $40,000 a year.

Matt Krupnick covers higher education.