House Bill 1602, which seeks authorization for certain public junior colleges to offer baccalaureate degree programs, was referred to the state's higher education legislative committee March 6.

Authored by state Rep. Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands, the bill would cater to growing communities, such as Montgomery County, where more hospitals are creating a higher demand for baccalaureate nurses.

"Montgomery County has quickly become a medical hub within the Houston metro,” Keough said. “With the addition of two new hospitals, the need for highly trained medical staff has become greater.”

In addition to HB 1602, similar bills have been filed by state Reps. Donna Howard, Mary Ann Perez, Jodie Laubenberg, Sylvia Garcia and Kirk Watson. Legislation from state Sen. Brandon Creighton and state Sen. Kel Seliger is expected to be filed this week as well, according to Lone Star College System officials.

“We believe that authorizing LSCS to offer baccalaureate degrees in nursing will allow LSCS to provide affordable, accessible training to help propel students from [registered nurses] to [bachelor of science nurses], arming them with the skills needed to help meet the demand in this fast-growing Gulf Coast region,” LSCS Chancellor Steve Head said.

HB 1602 will help campuses, such as Lone Star College-Montgomery, graduate more field-prepared nurses.

“Lone Star College has been training nurses for many years, and they have a proven track record of success,” Keough said. “With the addition of a baccalaureate degree program for nursing, the needs for highly skilled and trained nursing staff will be met locally by a great community partner.”

In 2010, the American Nurses Credentialing Center adopted new criteria for obtaining magnet status, which is the highest distinction health care organizations can receive for nursing. One new stipulation would require 80 percent of a hospital’s nursing staff to have bachelor’s degrees by 2020, said Kerrie Guerrero, vice president and chief nursing officer at Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital.

“For this reason, we will be seeking nursing professionals with four-year degrees,” Guerrero said. “A baccalaureate nursing program in The Woodlands will help provide a qualified applicant pool as we expand our nursing staff in the future.”