The signing of House Bill 3348 into law during the 87th Texas Legislature allows for local community colleges, such as College of the Mainland, to offer up to five bachelor’s degree programs with their two-year offerings.

COM is among several local higher education institutions planning to expand programming. Officials at San Jacinto College and Alvin Community College said they are assessing workforce needs and college strategic plans to determine how they will move forward with future

four-year degree offerings.

“We feel that HB 3348 has given us an opportunity to offer bachelor’s degrees in the future,” said John Tompkins, communications coordinator at Alvin Community College.

The first baccalaureate degree COM is offering will be in nursing. The first 20 students in the cohort will begin this fall, and the second cohort will be admitted, tentatively, in the fall 2022 semester, per the online course catalog.

“We are a responsive college,” COM Vice President for Instruction Jerry Fliger said. “All of our programs directly serve the workforce needs of our community.”

COM leadership and local lawmakers spoke about the program expansions July 1 inside of the new science, technology, engineering, arts and math building, which was unveiled April 30. State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, called HB 3348 “a godsend for students today,” adding community colleges will lead the state into post-pandemic economic recovery at an efficient cost.

Bills such as HB 3348 help colleges provide more robust offerings and work toward having equality of opportunity in postsecondary education, said state Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville.

“It’s these kinds of bills that I think build a better future for Texas,” said Middleton, who was a bill sponsor.

COM offers the third-lowest tuition in the state for community colleges, President Warren Nichols said at the news conference. Key decision-makers review labor market data each year to ensure program offerings empower graduates to enter the workforce with skills that will be in demand in the next five to 10 years, college leaders said.

Community colleges’ workforce development programs help ensure the next generation of learners remains in the Bay Area, lawmakers and college leaders said. Earning a four-year degree at a private university outside the Greater Houston area can result in the accumulation of significant student debt, making higher education unattainable for certain people.

COM cannot offer another bachelor’s program until at least six months after the first one begins, Fliger said. The college is working with its business and industry partners to develop plans for the other four bachelor’s programs.

“We welcome and encourage the conversations with our sister universities to let us provide the opportunity for our students, regardless of what their career aspirations are, to come here [to COM] to continue that education,” Nichols said.