Having the ability to offer bachelor’s degrees to nurses is Austin Community College’s top legislative priority ahead of the 2017 legislative session, which starts in January.
The ACC board of trustees in May approved a resolution stating the college district’s top items for legislative action. ACC will be joined by other two-year institutions in the state as they attempt to be granted special authorization to confer Bachelor’s of Science in nursing, or BSN, degrees to associate degree graduates with the registered nurse licensure.
“What we are seeing is more of our health care partners are looking for nurses who are credentialed at the BSN level,” said Patricia Recek, ACC’s dean of health sciences. “Right now about 53 percent of nurses in Texas have a BSN. It’s anticipated we need a large number of graduates [to meet the rising demand].”
ACC Provost Charles Cook said having the ability offer four-year degrees would change the type of institution ACC is, which is why the college must seek approval from the state Legislature.
Even if state lawmakers agree that ACC ought to be able to confer BSNs, the college would have to receive accreditation of the degree program through the South Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the regional accrediting body for higher education institutions.
“It’s going to be about a two-year process to go through and document that we have the capacity, talent and equipment that is needed, and we can support and offer a high-quality program,” Cook said.
The college tried in the most recent legislative session in 2015 to get a bill passed that would have allowed ACC to offer BSNs but was unsuccessful. Cook said that four-year institutions are strong opponents of such legislation because it could affect their revenue.
“I think many universities across the state are a little nervous about what they perceive to be [as]us invading their territory,” he said. “If we expanded the number of four-year degrees, then obviously we would be cutting into their enrollment.”
In 2014, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board issued a recommendation that the Legislature authorize certain community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing where a workforce need is evident.
Cook said ACC and four other two-year institutions have formed a coalition of support for passing legislation allowing them to offer RN-to-BSN programs. He said the college has reached out to state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, to make sure they are on board with the request and have had conversations with Seton Healthcare Family and St. David’s HealthCare.
“[Adding the degrees] is clearly a move that’s going to strengthen our community as well as the economy,” Cook said.