BROWNSVILLE, RGV – South Texas College President Shirley A. Reed says her institution is likely to go back to the Legislature in 2019 and ask for permission to offer more four-year baccalaureate degree programs.
Currently, STC offers four applied baccalaureate degree programs. The fields are Organizational Leadership, Technology Management, Medical and Health Service Management and Computer Information Technologies.
STC, which serves Hidalgo and Starr counties, has permission to offer five and the fifth will be a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, if accreditation is secured from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and approval is granted by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
“The next legislative session we want to see if we can’t move to six or seven,” Reed told reporters at an end of an articulation agreement ceremony held at Texas Southmost College. “There are so many degrees that the Valley needs that are not being offered by the university and they all lead to good paying jobs. That is why we are here, to respond to the needs of the community.”
In her speech at the articulation agreement ceremony, Reed said more and more community colleges across the country are offering four-year degree programs. She predicted that trend would continue. In Texas, Senate Bill 2118, authored by state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, allows community colleges to offer such programs.
Reed told the Rio Grande Guardian that any fears universities may have can be allayed.
“We need to slowly expand it. There is some element of, I guess, fear, discomfort, on the part of the universities, like they (community colleges) are growing too fast, will they really be successful, and so the new community colleges that want to participate in this program, they are going to need at least a couple of years to get their program started and to demonstrate they can be successful. Once that foundation is established you are going to see that fear be lifted. What is the need for an arbitrary ceiling? I mean, we are here to respond to the needs of the community and if we need six or we need two, we should make that decision,” Reed said.
Asked about community colleges across the country wanting to provide baccalaureate degrees, Reed said:
“It already is beginning to be a trend. I think it is going to be in the next stage of the development of community colleges. Community colleges have always been workforce focused. Now, the need of the workforce is beyond just the technical skills that you can earn in a two-year program. The universities, they are not focused on the applied part, which is the critical difference in what we are doing and what the universities are doing.
“You see it all across the country. Florida, for example, changed all their community colleges to what they call state colleges, and they are all offering 20 and 30 different baccalaureate degrees. In the healthcare field, education, law enforcement, plus all the technical and manufacturing, I do see that happening in Texas. We (STC) happen to have been the pioneers. It has been 12 years now, it has taken a long time to get four degrees but in the next decade you are going to see this opened up and you are going to see more and more community colleges participate.”
Reed acknowledged that some have doubts about community colleges offering four-year degrees.
“There is this mindset that community colleges do not provide the academic rigor that a university would. We really take issue with that perception. Our faculty have doctorate degrees, we have quality faculty from all over the world. Our graduates are the testimony to the quality of the program. We measure it by how pleased the employers are with our graduates and how you see them advance in their companies. There is an expression, the proof is in the pudding. You can judge the quality of the program by the success of the graduates and to have them go to graduate school and finish in graduate school. That is quite a testimony.”
Reed noted that UT-Rio Grande Valley was very supportive of STC’s efforts to offer a four-year degree in nursing. It was STC’s top issue during the 85th Legislative Session.
“UTRGV was very supportive. They clearly recognized how great the need is in the Valley for nurses. And this Bachelor of Science in Nursing, it will be what we call a transitional program. We will be accepting students that already have an associate degree in nursing and who are registered nurses. What they will do is finish the final two years of the program,” Reed said.
“I was just up in Houston at the Medical Center, just visiting the different hospitals and talking to people about nurses. They said, well we only hire Bachelor’s prepared nurses. That speaks to the need and with the increasing complexity of healthcare, we are rapidly moving to the point of needing a Bachelor’s degree.”
The articulation agreement between TSC and STC was signed by Mike Shannon, interim president of TSC, and Reed. In her interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Reed pointed out that STC has had a good working relationship with TSC in the past.
“We worked with them on NAAMREI, the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research Education Initiative. And, our Department of Continuing Ed is helping TSC develop their programs, in areas such as GED and adult literacy, entry level workforce programs. Mr. Shannon was with us for many, many years. They (TSC) understand they have an opportunity to create a dynamic, robust community college to serve Brownsville, just like South Texas College is serving Hidalgo and Starr County,” Reed said.
Asked how the articulation agreement will work, Reed said:
“What this means is students who have graduated from Texas Southmost College with an Associate of Applied Science degree will be able to transfer to South Texas College and earn a Baccalaureate degree. We’ve had such incredible success with these degrees, students graduate, they get good paying jobs, large numbers are going on to earn their master’s degree. We’ve had a long-standing partnership with Texas Southmost College and this is just the latest effort to work together.”
Reed also noted that STC and TSC is responding to the needs of industry.
“Our industry tells us repeatedly we produce very strong skilled technicians but they want them to go to the next level. They want them to eventually move into managerial, supervisory and eventually provide leadership in these companies. That is what we are doing, we are taking away the glass ceiling from so many students who earn technical degrees. The world is open to them now,” Reed said.
She also noted that the cost of a four-year degree is more affordable at a community college. “You can complete a baccalaureate degree at South Texas College for less than half it would cost at any four-year university in Texas.”