AUSTIN (KXAN) — A bill allowing community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees passed through the Texas House Saturday, after passing through the Senate earlier this month. Now Austin Community College is optimistically waiting, hopeful this bill could soon end up on the governor’s desk.
SB 2118, authored by Senator Kel Seliger R-Amarillo, would allow certain public junior colleges to offer baccalaureate degree programs in the fields of applied science, applied technology and nursing. Under this bill, colleges cannot offer more than three of these programs at a time.
ACC supports SB 2118, especially because their community college district has plans to create a bachelor’s of nursing program if the bill becomes law.
Molly Beth Malcolm, vice president of Community Engagement and Public Information for ACC, has been talking to lawmakers about this bill.
She explained that the bill is now headed back to the Senate for some amendments, and if those are amendments are passed, the bill will head to the governor’s desk. She said that ACC has joined a coalition of 10 Texas community colleges who want to see the bill pass.
The ACC bachelor’s of nursing program is designed for people who are already registered nurses who want to go back to receive a bachelor’s degree. Because individuals in the program would have already received their associate’s degree, they would only need two years at ACC to complete their bachelor’s in nursing, which would cost under $5,000. That payment would be in addition to whatever they paid to obtain their associate’s degree, which also costs roughly around $5,000 at ACC.
Malcolm explained that hospitals are increasingly looking to hire nurses with bachelor’s degrees and that students with a bachelor’s in nursing will earn $6,000 to $8,000 more annually than their counterparts without the degree.
“We will have the same accreditation standards that the universities have exactly,” she explained. “Even if we offer and get as many nurses through the bachelor’s degree program as possible, and every one of the universities around us does the same thing, we will probably still have a nursing shortage.”
She said that nurses have already been calling the college asking to sign up for the program.
Megan Snay, who graduated in May from ACC with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Nursing, said that she would return to ACC to enroll in this bachelor’s program.
Snay previously worked in restaurant services and as a bike mechanic, but eventually was drawn to nursing.
“I threw myself into it and [I have] no regrets, it has become the embodiment of everything I wanted in helping people,” Snay said.
Through six years of working and going to school part time, she completed the prerequisites for nursing as well as her associates at ACC, all while doing clinical work at medical facilities around Austin.
In Texas, an associate’s degree in nursing allows students to take the National Council Licensure Examination test to become a registered nurse. But more and more employers are looking for nurses who have a bachelor’s degree.
Seton Healthcare Family also has advocated for the passage of SB 2118. Yvonne Van Dyke, the chief Nursing Officer for Seton, explained everyone she knows at Seton working in a clinical setting is looking for more nurses to hire.
“We have need for more nurses in our organization and really are seeking to increase the number of bachelor’s-prepared nurses,” she said.
Van Dyke added that the need for nurses stems from a significant percentage of the nursing population approaching retirement age as well as increased life expectancy for patients.
She said that because community colleges typically support people from the area, she believes that nursing programs at community colleges would be more likely to produce nursing graduates who would stay in the community.
Tuition at UT Austin’s four-year bachelor’s of nursing program is $5,496 per semester for students taking between 14 and 17 credit hours.
“We agree there is a need for more baccalaureate programs in nursing that’s one reason why the UT Austin School of Nursing has had the associate degree in nursing to bachelor of science in nursing program for many years now,” said Alexa Stuifbergen, Dean at the UT Austin School of Nursing .”We think it’s essential that any community college that would offer a four year degree in nursing to have accreditation by the Department of Education, because that is what is necessary for a student to enter any graduate programs or go further with their education.”