|McALLEN, June 21 - A new agreement will allow South Texas College students who complete an Associate Degree in Nursing to seamlessly transition over to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.
STC officials signed the articulation agreement in McAllen on Friday with their counterparts from Texas A&M Health Science Center.
Under the agreement STC students will be tutored online by educators at Texas A&M Health Science’s College of Nursing. Officials said the joint admissions process will create a clear path for STC students to pursue a bachelor’s degree without the need to repeat successfully completed courses at the associate degree level.
“I am just overjoyed. This is like winning the lottery for us because we want to look after our students and this is like passing them on to welcoming hands that are going to take care of them,” Melba Treviño, STC’s interim dean for nursing and allied health, told the Guardian.
“Texas A&M Health Science Center will be able to take our students to the next level so they can achieve higher levels of learning. This is what they need in order to be able to handle the healthcare environment of today.”
Sharon Wilkerson, founding dean of Texas A&M Health Science Center’s College of Nursing, said more and more hospitals are requiring nurses to have a baccalaureate degree.
“We are finding that in the larger communities, Dallas, Houston, and even Austin, they are not hiring nurses unless they have a bachelor’s degree,” Wilkerson told the Guardian. “And, in the Rio Grande Valley, a number of hospitals are looking to become magnet hospitals and if they go for that they must have baccalaureate nurses as well. So, this will give these students a real advantage. It will make them much more marketable.”
Wilkerson said research shows that quality of care and safety is higher when baccalaureate nurses are tending to patients. “Nursing has not been producing as many baccalaureate nurses down here even though UT-Pan Am is here and has a good program. We are seeing more of the associate degree level nurses. So, we are very happy to be here and looking forward to the relationship with South Texas College.”
Treviño explained what the A&M HSC-STC partnership is all about. “It is a partnership where we are taking associate degree nursing graduates and seamlessly transferring them to Texas A&M Health Science Center’s College of Nursing. What that means is they will be co-enrolled, finishing up some of their academic courses that were not required for the associate’s degree, such as history and government and at the same time being enrolled in Texas A&M as they begin to transition into the Bachelor of Nursing courses,” Treviño said.
“That means they will be able to complete all their courses at South Texas College, at less expense. And, when they go into the nursing courses they will begin to pay the university cost, which is a lot less than trying to do all these courses at a university. So, it is not until their last 30 hours that they will be paying university fees. But, this seamless transition is the best you can do especially since you are going to do it online. These people will be able to go work and then at their leisure be able to do the online courses.”
Treviño said in the past, a nursing student taking a Bachelor of Science in Nursing course at Texas A&M Health Science Center would have to do their clinical work at College Station. Not anymore. “Now they can do it where they work, in their own clinical settings. This is wonderful. This is a happy day, a great day at STC, when we can take care of our students and have them transition into a program that is going to be great for them.”
STC’s Nursing and Allied Health Center in McAllen is right next door to Texas AM Health Science Center’s School of Rural Public Health. Treviño said staff at the school will be willing to help the nursing students at STC. “I encourage students to do the baccalaureate degree right away. Don’t wait. Keep on going with your education. Take the course online with a local resource, people that are willing to help them. You cannot have a better deal.”
Wilkerson said the new program is going to allow students that already have their RN to go directly into the baccalaureate program and get credit for those courses they have already done. “So, within 12 months, if they do this full-time, which is two courses per semester, they can finish with a baccalaureate degree,” she explained.
Wilkerson also said students will have face to face time with faculty. “All of our faculty members have cameras on their computers. The students can call and see them and have direct contact.”
Asked how many STC students she hopes will take the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, Wilkerson said: “We hope to have a full cohort of 20 but we will start with just two if we have to. We want to see an inroad in the Rio Grande Valley.” Treviño, however, predicts the level of interest will be high. “A&M is going to have a cohort without any problem, I am sure. The word is getting out. Our graduates who have been waiting for something like this will surely join forces right away. And, from this group alone, that are just finishing now, you have got 46 possibilities,” Treviño said.
Asked if there was a great demand for Spanish-speaking nurses, Wilkerson said yes. “Absolutely, there is a great need for nurses who speak English and Spanish. I envy the people who grew up down here and have that experience. There is a high demand across Texas,” she said. Asked if this was a factor in collaborating with STC, Wilkerson said: “These students have a great deal to offer to nursing. I do not want to be stealing them from the Valley because I know the Valley needs nurses too. But, yes, they are going to be very marketable elsewhere.”
Treviño agreed that Spanish-speaking nurses are in great demand. “There is a great need for bilingual nurses and there is a great need to teach people medical language in Spanish. It is a great advantage for a nurse to be able to speak Spanish because many patients cannot speak English. Here at STC, 96 percent of our students are Hispanic. We have graduates who go to Houston and are in great demand. They get shifted from one floor to another and told to come over because the hospital has a patient who cannot speak English. It is remarkable. You would think we are everywhere.”
State Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said he fully supports the articulation agreement between Texas A&M Health Science Center-College of Nursing and South Texas.
“The Texas A&M Health Science Center has a tradition of educating top nursing graduates and their partnership with South Texas College will allow more Associate Nursing graduates to realize their higher education goals more quickly,” Hinojosa said, in a written statement. “I have no doubt that this partnership will enhance education and help address our shortage of nurses across the South Texas region, and I’m proud to support these groups in their new venture.”
Texas A&M Health Science Center-College of Nursing has existing articulation agreements in place with Blinn College in Bryan-College Station and Austin Community College.