Bill allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees moves to full Senate

A bill before the Senate could allow Austin Community College to offer four-year degrees in nursing.

A bill before the Senate could allow Austin Community College to offer four-year degrees in nursing.

Austin Community College and other two-year public community college systems in Texas may soon be able to offer bachelor's degrees in certain fields if a Senate bill becomes law.

Senate Bill 2118, filed by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, states the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has the right to authorize public junior colleges, or community colleges, to offer four-year baccalaureate degrees in applied science, applied technology and nursing.

It was voted out of the Senate Higher Education Committee to the full Senate yesterday.

“This would allow for a more comprehensive and statewide approach to this matter and better ensure community colleges are able to meet the needs of the state,” Seliger said.

SB 2118 is one of more than a dozen similar bills filed this legislative session that call for certain community colleges to be granted the right to offer bachelor's degrees. Seliger's bill would apply to every community college in the state, should they wish to pursue it.

South Texas College, Midland College, Tyler Junior College and Brazosport College are the only community colleges in Texas that can currently offer bachelor's degrees.

The process could take as long as two years, according to Rex Peebles, assistant commissioner of the THECB.

"That’s going to cause some institutions to think a little bit about how they want to do it, what they want to do, do they have the resources and the capacity for it," he said.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said he wanted to make sure there was a "clear pathway" to getting community colleges accredited.

Seliger's bill states the THECB must consider workforce demand in the area of study; whether the associate degree program offered by the junior college in the same field has been successful; whether enough interest will be generated to support student enrollment; and whether the college has the facilities in place for the program. It must also ensure the program would not draw faculty employed by a neighboring institution offering a similar program.

ACC has been pursuing an RN-to-BSN degree for at least three years. If state lawmakers vote this bill into law, ACC and other community colleges interested in pursuing this must then apply to receive program accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges by proving the critical need for nurses with a bachelor’s degree.

ACC President and CEO Richard Rhodes told Community Impact Newspaper in January he thinks the four-year nursing degree will be implemented 1-2 years after ACC receives accreditation.

The Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies predicts the state will face a shortage of all nurse types by 2030. The organization projects a 20 percent shortage in full-time registered nurses by 2030.

"This RN-to-BSN bill will strengthen the nursing pipeline in Central Texas," Rhodes said today in a statement. "That means ACC can continue to provide the critical training our community needs."

He said the college system appreciated the support of state legislators and called their approval a "vote of confidence in ACC."


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