Chancellor calls the degree an “applied bachelorette” rather than liberal arts bachelor’s degree.
By Kyle R. Cotton
With Alamo College’s direct responsibility of serving San Antonio, the Student Success Committee of the district board approved forwarding to the full board the possibility of becoming the fourth community college in Texas to offer bachelor degrees.
Alamo Colleges would join South Texas College, Brazosport College and Midland College to better serve the business community of San Antonio and the state’s goals.
Fire science, nursing and American Sign Language are the areas under consideration in the Alamo Colleges.
The board will vote on adding the awarding of bachelor degree authorization to the Alamo College’s legislative agenda at the regular board meeting 6 p.m. Dec. 15 at 201 W. Sheridan St.
“You know for some time, we as board members have been hearing that not enough people in the state of Texas are getting a bachelor’s degree,” District 9 trustee James Rindfuss said.
Rindfuss said the state graduates about 22 percent of students with a bachelor’s degree but wants to increase that number to 40 percent.
Rindfuss said the four-year colleges only enroll half the students in the state. Both divisions are at capacity.
“The only way we are ever going to get there is to convince the Legislature that we have to expand the number of colleges that can offer a bachelor’s degree to achieve this 40 percent,” Rindfuss said.
“I realize there are a lot of politics in this, but there shouldn’t be,” he said. “The only way that Florida and in some cases in California convinced their legislature to do this is to offer bachelor degrees that weren’t already offered at the four-year college.”
Rindfuss continued, “At this point in time, our industry partners and businesses could certainly craft degrees that are not out there and get the curriculum prepared with our faculty and we could create new bachelor’s degrees that would probably present better employment opportunities than those that they are getting at the four-year colleges.
Rindfuss noted also the difficulty that students have transferring and having to decide early on where they will go, and said it would be mitigated if the Alamo College’s could offer bachelor degrees.
He encouraged the committee to endorse a legislative push, noting how much it would help the students and the community.
“It may not happen, but we have got to start somewhere so put your flag in the sand and let’s let them know that we as a board are behind this and we’ve asked our administration to push this forward on the legislative agenda in whatever fashion they can get it done,” Rindfuss said.
Chancellor Bruce Leslie gave background on Senate Bill 414, approved by the Texas Legislature May 22, 2013, which mandated the study conducted by the Texas Higher Education Policy Initiative in partnership with The Rand Corporation.
The study found the potential benefits of bachelor degree programs being expanded to community colleges were a greater ability to help meet regional and statewide workforce needs; the potential for increased student access and degree attainment; greater experience with applied education; and a small, supportive environment for students.
The study recommended three policy options to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for consideration, including expanding authorization of bachelor degree programs to community colleges under specific limitations.
Leslie said the main limitation is not to compete with area universities, stating the Alamo Colleges would award an “applied bachelorette” degree rather than liberal arts.
He said the state is primarily looking at programs with shortages such as nursing, fire science, childcare and American Sign Language and added that each program would have to be submitted and considered individually by THECB once approved by the Legislature.
“There are strong strictures in getting the authority to do it, so it’s not a free for all,” Leslie said.
He said there is strong interest not just by Alamo Colleges but other urban community colleges throughout the state.
“It’s not really a major priority in the state, it’s hard to push because they constricted it so much to the technical fields,” District 5 trustee Roberto Zárate said. “There isn’t a lot of enthusiasm or support, unless it comes from the business community and that’s what we are going to try and do, to see if there is an interest in the business community to help us get these bachelorette plans.”
District 1 trustee Joe Alderate suggested that the board direct the chancellor and his staff to evaluate the business needs of San Antonio.
“I know that Rackspace is hungry for people to work in their industry; how are we addressing that?” Alderate said. “Is there a way to develop more in technology for further employment assistance? There may be other companies who need further assistance.”
Alderate said the Alamo Colleges needs to get the input of the larger companies such as Rackspace, Toyota and Microsoft to help design programs to fill those needs that the four-year colleges cannot.
Alderate asked the chancellor and his staff to find a clear definition of the limitations so that when it goes to legislative agenda, they could do more than simply bachelor degrees in fire science, nursing and American Sign Language.
Rindfuss said, “It seems to me like our business and industry leaders are very interested in graduates that can multitask and that’s where I think our position should lie, creating that multitasking specialty.”
Rindfuss continued, “The four-year colleges haven’t got a clue as to how to do that. They say, ‘you have to get a bachelor’s degree in this, a bachelor’s degree in that, a bachelor’s degree in this in order to achieve what you want to do,’ I don’t believe so and I think we can create a multitask type of degree.”