MCALLEN, RGV – South Texas College President Shirley Reed has made clear her frustration at the time it has taken to start a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

Speaking at a news conference to announce the first cohort of nurses going into the program, Reed named one of the individual who did not support community colleges being given the green light to offer such degrees – state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, the former chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education.

However, in an interview after the news conference, Reed told reporters there were plenty of others who, perhaps, did not believe STC could deliver the academic rigor for such a degree.

“It is quite a day of celebration. It has been a long, long time coming. We have been working on this for over 16 years and it finally has materialized. It is great for the Valley,” Reed said.

Asked how hard it has been to establish a baccalaureate degree in nursing, Reed said:

“It has been an incredible battle. There has been a lot of pushback from a lot of fronts. There is this perception that a two-year college perhaps does not have the academic rigor, the quality of a major university. We have outstanding faculty. We have proven how strong and prepared our nurses are for the last 20 years. They just now need an opportunity to go to the next step in their career ladder.”

The 78th legislative session of 2003 selected STC as one of three community colleges in Texas that could begin a pilot program allowing for up to five applied baccalaureate degrees. The pilot component was removed in 2011.

A bachelor of science degree in nursing was always going to be one of the five baccalaureate degrees STC offered. However, Reed said, there were always roadblocks.

“The fifth one was always in place but they (the legislature) would never permit it to be nursing. They had a complete prohibition on any of the community colleges doing nursing. We knew it would be kind of our crown jewel,” Reed said.

Meanwhile, the other four baccalaureate programs permitted by the Legislature were established at STC – in the areas of Technology Management (established in 2005), Computer and Information Technologies (established in 2008), Medical and Health Services Management (established in 2011), and Organizational Leadership-Competency Based (established in 2014).

Asked how many nurses would be able to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing at STC, Reed said: “In the legislation they were very specific. They limited us to 30 students. The reason they did that is they wanted to be confident that we could deliver the results, we had the appropriate academic rigor, and that this would be a quality program.”

According to Dr. Jayson Valerio, dean of nursing and allied health care at South Texas College, the plan is to start an ADN-RN to BSN transition program. He said students who completed the Associate Degree in Nursing and who are licensed Registered Nurses, will have an opportunity to return to STC to complete their Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Asked why it has been so difficult to get the nursing baccalaureate program up and running, Reed told the Rio Grande Guardian:

“I would say some of that goes to turf-ism where in Higher Ed we think universities play a certain role and community colleges play a different role – and they expect each of us to stay within our little boxes,” Reed said.

According to groups like the National Academy of Medicine, there is a huge shortage of nurses in the United States. Reed said the shortage is also great in the Rio Grande Valley.

“The need is so great. We need to be producing Bachelor-prepared nursing. UTRGV needs to be producing bachelor degree nursing. The nursing shortage is so great, that all of us are not going to begin to meet the nursing shortage,” Reed told reporters.

Reed then explained the difference between what UTRGV is offering and what STC is offering.

“UTRGV has a bachelor of science in nursing, where you begin as a freshman and go four years and you get your bachelor’s degree. We are very different in that the students coming into this program are already licensed registered nurses, they already have extensive experience as a nurse. They are prepared to complete the program in approximately a year and they are going to have some exceptional career opportunities available.”

Asked if the success of STC’s other baccalaureate degree programs had reassured critics of the proposed nursing program, Reed said:

“All of our bachelor’s degree programs have exceeded all expectations. They have been so successful. We never imagined when we began our first bachelor programs that students would go on to get a Master’s degree.

“Our goal was to build on the technical skills that our students have, provide them leadership training, the supervisor’s managerial skills, to be frontline supervisors and, lo and behold, they have been so successful. They are now pursing Master’s and Doctorate programs. They are employed in key positions all across the Valley.”

Asked about STC’s efforts to add more baccalaureate degree programs, Reed said she was sad to report that during this past legislative session, lawmakers said “no” to proposed degree programs in cybersecurity and public safety.

“We did not get anything (from the Legislature). We thought we were going to get one of them but, at the last minute it was shot down. It died in the House. We were trying to do cybersecurity and public safety.”

Asked if the battle to establish degree programs in cybersecurity and public safety would continue, Reed said: “We are going to try again next session. We have strong support among the Valley delegation. But, it has to be approved by the entire Legislature and the coordinating board. It is very tough.”

Because the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program has taken so long to implement, all the more reason to celebrate, Reed said.

“We are celebrating our first cohort for South Texas College’s Bachelor’s degree program in Nursing. It is called an RN to BSN. Students who have graduated with an Associate’s degree in Nursing and who are new registered nurses are now coming back to earn their bachelor’s of science in nursing,” Reed said.

“These nurses are going to be prepared for supervisory, leadership roles, major management kind of positions in the healthcare industry. They are also going to be on a career path to be future teachers in nursing programs. One of the biggest impediments to producing nurses is not having adequate nursing faculty so these students will have a Bachelor’s degree. We hope they will go on and get a Master’s degree and then they can be nursing faculty, whether it be at South Texas College or who knows where.”


Dr. Christie Candelaria
Dr. Christie Candelaria

Like Reed, Dr. Christie Candelaria was not pleased that it took the powers that be almost two decades to allow the college to offer a baccalaureate degree in nursing. Candelaria, program director of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at STC, wrote a thesis on the subject.

“This is an exciting day, a very exciting day for all of us to be able to offer this to our local community, the registered nurses out there who want to pursue their bachelor’s degree. This is a special day because most of the students who graduated from STC have been waiting for this to happen and now it is a reality,” Candelaria said.

Asked why it has been a struggle to get the degree program approved, Candelaria, who spoke at the news conference, told the Rio Grande Guardian:

“The nursing profession still believes that bachelor’s degrees belong to four year colleges and universities and that is why I was saying (during the news conference), why the big hassle because we need nurses, highly educated nurses in the Valley, not only in the Valley but in Texas and why are we not allowing this?”

Candelaria pointed out that Florida and New Mexico offer Bachelor of Science degrees in Nursing.

“If they are doing this, why can’t we? That was the basis of my research for my thesis. I said if they can do it, why can’t we. We need these highly educated nurses in Texas as well as the Valley. I am so grateful that Dr. Reed did not give up on this.”

Candelaria admitted that at times she did not think STC would be given the opportunity to offer such degrees.

“But, eventually, when we got the final approval from the board of nursing, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, our crediting body, SACS, and our board of trustees it was like, oh yes, finally this is happening.”

Asked how serious the nursing shortage is in the United States, Candelaria said:

“It is very severe. Research has shown that we will need practically 20 million nurses nationwide. A lot of qualified applicants to nursing programs are turned away because schools of nursing do not have enough faculty and to prepare someone to be faculty you need to have your bachelor’s and your master’s and eventually your doctorate degrees.”

Candelaria said that at present the U.S. and the Valley are currently producing just enough nurses to replace those who are retiring. “We are never getting ahead,” she said.

Candelaria was a student at Walden University in the doctorate of education program. She said she did her thesis on the shortage of nurses in order to help STC.

“I was already full-time faculty, the chair of the associate degree nursing program at STC. I said, the college is looking forward to having this bachelor of science in nursing program, we need research to prove that we need this program. And that helped. I interviewed RNs and did focus groups with them and published my work.”

Candelaria added: “When you go into a doctorate degree in Walden University, they want you to focus on making a change in your community. I did not want to do a project just for the sake of getting my degree. I wanted to do a project that had an impact on the community.”