The Texas state legislature is considering expanding the number of community colleges that offer bachelor’s degrees in the state. Currently, three community colleges already offer a limited number of four-year degrees.
Senate Bill 2118, if enacted, would allow more institutions to offer four-year degrees in high-need areas, like nursing and early childhood development. So far, the bill has received great support in both the House and Senate, according to proponents of the measure.
“We believe that community colleges can deliver baccalaureate degrees at lower costs than universities can,” said Dr. Raymund A. Paredes, commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). “I think that will certainly create a pathway that doesn’t currently exist for students to get baccalaureate degrees.”
In 2013, the Texas Legislature commissioned a report to study the viability of increasing baccalaureate programs at community colleges in the state. The report found that there is a need for more baccalaureate degrees in the state in certain sectors, such as healthcare and computer and information technology.
A coalition of 10 community colleges are ready to hit the ground running if and when the bill passes, according to Molly Beth Malcolm, vice president of community engagement and public affairs at Austin Community College (ACC). Her institution plans to offer a bridge program from RN to BSN degrees if SB 2118 passes.
“The way the bill is written, you can only offer these degrees where there’s a critical workforce need,” Malcolm said. “For central Texas, that critical workforce need is in the area of nursing. There’s already a shortage of nursing predicted and it just gets larger over the next decade.”
Despite pressing workforce needs, Malcolm anticipates that it would take at least two years before ACC could offer its students a BSN degree.
SB 2118 is designed to move slowly and deliberately. In order to offer a baccalaureate program, Texas community colleges would first have to prepare a proposal, which would then be submitted to THECB for approval and subsequently accredited by the regional accreditor. Community colleges will also have to show that there is a strong need for their programming that cannot already be met by public universities in the state.
“They’re going to have to demonstrate that there’s a workforce need,” Paredes said. “They’re going to have to demonstrate that universities proximate to community colleges proposing a degree aren’t capable of meeting the workforce need.”
Paredes said that the bill was designed to ensure that community college bachelor’s programs would not be competing with similar programs at the state’s public universities.
“Community colleges have to demonstrate that if there is an unmet need in a given region, that they have also conferred with the university in question to be sure that the university doesn’t have the capacity to meet whatever unmet demand there is for such a credential,” Paredes said.
Aside from these other logistical challenges, there is also significant cost involved with developing curriculum and building a new program from the ground up.
“Community colleges in Texas, like community colleges everywhere, are strapped for resources,” Paredes pointed out. “So it’s unlikely that there’s going to be a rush to develop baccalaureate programs.”
Of the 10 community colleges interested in offering baccalaureate degrees, nine want to do so in nursing, according to Malcolm. Other areas of interest include early childhood education and applied technology.
“It has broad support from the entire legislature, and also from our chambers of commerce, and our hospitals,” Malcolm said of SB 2118. “We’ve had a lot of support. We haven’t done this on our own as colleges. We really had community and business support working on this.”
For students, Malcolm said, obtaining a BSN from a community college would be a win-win. First, they stand to earn $6,000 to $8,000 more annually with a bachelor’s degree. Second, the standards and expectations for a BSN from a community college would be no different than at a four-year school. Students would still be required to meet the same academic standards, have the same work experience, and obtain the same professional licensure.
“There will be no difference in you getting your degree from a community college versus a university,” Malcolm said.
For Michael Holman, a recent graduate of ACC’s ADN program, the prospect of going back for a BSN is an appealing one. “I only have an associate’s currently, and I’m really hoping to go back for my bachelor’s, or master’s, because I would like to teach eventually,” Holman said. Holman would go back to ACC “in a heartbeat.”
“They have such a thorough system to train college students that come in there, that I would be very confident in whatever bachelor’s program they would put up,” he said.
Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at [email protected].