Senate committee discusses bachelor’s degrees in community colleges

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Criteria must be met to offer degrees.

By Wally Perez

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

A bill which would allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in certain programs was discussed and left pending for approval after a meeting of the Texas State Senate Committee on Higher Education April 19.

The hearings were streamed live at www.senate.state.tx.us/av-archive.php. Senate Bill 2118 would authorize bacehlor’s degree programs in the fields of applied science, applied technology and nursing at colleges that meet certain criteria while demonstrating workforce needs.

There are four community colleges that offer bachelor’s degrees in Texas: South Texas College in McAllen, Midland College, Tyler Junior College and Brazosport College in Lake Jackson.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed the bill and presented the committee substitute, an amended version of the original bill that was recommended by the committee.

Seliger said there has been continued debate on whether community colleges may offer bachelor’s degrees in the last several legislative sessions.

“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 during the meeting.

The colleges would be limited to three bachelor’s degree programs at a time and will be monitored by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The same criteria and standards the coordinating board uses to determine which colleges may offer the programs at four-year universities will be applied to community colleges interested in offering the four-year degrees.

Criteria include how the programs would complement other programs at the college and whether the associate degree of the program has been successful.

Colleges would need to ensure the programs would not duplicate those offered by other institutions of higher education and demonstrate the ability to support student enrollment for those programs.

Seliger said colleges will require $6 billion property valuation and obtain a positive assessment by the coordinating board of their overall financial health.

“This is particularly important because if a community college is not on a solid financial basis now, how can they handle expanded and more expensive programs?” Seliger said.

Colleges will be required to charge the same rate for tuition and fees they currently do for corresponding programs to keep community college accessible and affordable for students and families, Seliger said.

Colleges will need to submit an application to the coordinating board for approval, which includes their long-term financial plan for receiving the Southern Association of Colleges and School’s approval and faculty recruitment.

Details on how the program will be delivered to the students will be required, e.g. online, hybrid or on campus.

Colleges also will need to report existing articulation agreements with four-year institutions.

Additionally, community colleges looking to offer four-year degrees in nursing need to acquire national accreditation in nursing and need to maintain enrollment slots for new nursing students enrolled in their associate degree program.

“I believe this bill will go a long way in addressing the workforce needs of the state, allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees at an affordable cost to students while ensuring the degrees the students receive meet the same high standards that four-year institutions across the state achieve in the same programs,” Seliger said.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, mentioned a similar bill filed in Harris County, which would allow every community college to set up degrees in applied technology under certain rubrics.

Bettencourt brought up a case regarding the Houston Community College school of nursing, where the college was holding degrees based on whether students passed the National Council Licensure Exam.

Bettencourt expressed concern that if the degree programs were expanded rapidly throughout the state, then there would be more incidents like that.

Raymund Paredes, commissioner for the coordinating board, told Bettencourt he did not believe there would be a rush in developing bachelor’s degree programs at community colleges, and did not believe it would be an issue.

“I think there are very tight controls and very significant hurdles that institutions must overcome in order to present a program for approval,” Paredes said.

Rex Peebles, assistant commissioner for the coordinating board, said it would be rather slow in measured growth.

Peebles said every institution, outside of the four institutions already offering bachelor’s degrees, would first need to seek a Level 2 status, which is the ability to offer bachelor’s degrees, with SACSCOC.

Peebles said gaining the authority to offer the degrees would be about a yearlong process, sometimes two years.

Peebles said institutions would be required to meet criteria laid out by the coordinating board in terms of quality and graduates to ensure when students exit the programs, they exit with the skills and tools needed to be successful in the workplace and to pass the national exams.

Lauri Metcalf, chair of the American Sign Language and interpreter training department at this college, testified in favor of the bill.

Out of 13 ASL programs across Texas, only one offers a bachelor’s degree, Metcalf said.

Metcalf said students learn a language, not to just chat, but at a much deeper level, all while learning to interpret in two years.

Metcalf said a bachelor’s in the program would give students an additional 480 clock hours of time on task, which would increase their ability to pass our state and national test.

“I think there is a growing need in the community,” Metcalf said. “Deaf people are now doing so many more things requiring interpreters.”

Metcalf said there’s a shortage in ASL interpreters in Texas and at a national level now that deaf people are attending four-year universities and not schools intended just for the deaf.

“Our students are graduating and earning $23 an hour with an associate degree. Could you imagine what they could do with a bachelor’s degree and the additional time on task?” Metcalf said.

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