STC unveils first-in-nation Registered Nurse Apprenticeship Program

MCALLEN, Texas – South Texas College, along with partner DHR Health, held a ceremony to celebrate the establishment of a groundbreaking nursing apprenticeship program for STC students. 

The program will provide individuals pursing an associate’s degree in nursing the opportunity to earn a minimum of $14 an hour to train at DHR Health while completing their courses and clinicals. 

Approved and under the regulation of the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship, it is the first program of its kind in the country that specifically aims to mitigate the nationwide nursing shortage by alleviating the financial burden many students face. Participants that complete 4,000 hours of relevant work experience will additionally receive a certificate from the DoL, boosting their desirability in the job market. 

“This is not cheating anything [out of] an already great program,” said Carlos Margo, STC Dean of Industrial Training and Economic Development. “This is just adding another layer of value … It’s going to take two years for these individuals to receive their Department of Labor certificate, but I guarantee you it’s going to be worth it. This is a lifetime credential that they are going to have that they would not have had if not for this apprenticeship program.”

Dignitaries from across the Rio Grande Valley met at STC’s Nursing and Allied Health campus to commemorate the momentous occasion, with many in attendance having played a key role in advancing the program. Coordination between local, state and federal entities was crucial, and representatives from the DoL; Texas Workforce Commission; Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board; Texas Board of Nursing; Region One Education Service Center; Hidalgo County; and the City of McAllen were recognized for their contributions. 

Julian Alvarez, former TWC Commissioner Representing Labor and current senior vice president and director of business development for Lone Star National Bank, championed the endeavor to create the apprenticeship program while at TWC. He worked as the de facto liaison between the different groups and remained confident throughout the 17-month application process that STC would be approved. Despite many words of praise throughout the ceremony, Alvarez pointed back to the efforts of those in the audience.

“I had it easy, ladies and gentleman, because I listened to stakeholders like you around the state, and all I did was put pen to paper,” said Alvarez. “…I’m very grateful for the supportive and the kind words that were said, but it was really all of you that put this program together.”

He added, “Everyone around the country is going to be watching what you’re doing. Everyone is going to be watching the success that’s going to be taking place right here in McAllen, Texas.”

Jayson Valerio, dean of STC’s Nursing and Allied Health campus, explained the importance of the apprenticeship program by putting the nursing shortage into perspective. As a result of COVID-19, many nurses retired or left the field entirely, making an already in-demand position even harder to fill. Without a remedy, future projections look bleak.

“Looking ahead, there are approximately 800,000 RNs [registered nurses] and an additional 184,000 licensed vocational nurses that indicate they intend to leave the profession,” said Valerio. “So, we must act now. I believe that this partner apprenticeship program is a practical, sustainable solution in addressing the nursing shortage not just in our community, but, hopefully, this will be an example and a national model for others to follow.”

DHR Health Chief Nursing Officer Nancy Garcia spoke about the landmark partnership and how it will benefit students considering nursing and the region.

“South Texas College and DHR Health are the first in the nation – yes, first in the nation – chosen for the registered nurse apprenticeship program,” said Garcia. “This is a testament to the dedication … of STC and DHR Health to shape the next generation of nurses. It is an acknowledgment of our shared vision also to help close the gap in the nursing shortage. This also presents a great opportunity for nurses in our community and it provides a pathway for talented individuals to follow their passion for nursing without the financial burden … Let us treasure this moment as we embark on this journey that will shape the future of health care in South Texas.”

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa commended both STC and DHR for the partnership, echoing Garcia’s outlook for local residents.

“This partnership of DHR Health and STC is key to health care here in the [Rio Grande] Valley,” said Hinojosa. “I know DHR Health is very innovative in pushing the envelope … and, now, they’re pushing the envelope in creating and expanding our nursing capabilities here in the Valley.”

With an estimated 500 nurses graduating every year, STC is the already the largest producer of LVNs and RNs in the state. STC President Ricardo J. Solis, said he hopes the program will solidify the college as the “nursing capitol” of Texas and help many more students reach their goals. He says “providing global impact and bold solutions” is the STC brand and promises more innovative programs are on their way. 

“South Texas College prides itself by being at the cutting edge of programs,” said Solis. “I am totally confident that the way we deliver economic and educational programming increasingly determines the economic competitiveness of a region, and, of course, the apportionment of social mobility and opportunity for the constituents of the Rio Grande Valley.”

STC Board of Trustees Chair Rose Benavidez gave the closing remarks. She reflected on all the hard work that cumulated into the apprenticeship program but highlighted the heart and dedication of those seeking to help others.

“How do you express your gratitude for someone whose sacrifice is grounded in service, whose motivation is inspired by mortality, and whose sole purpose is dedicated to ‘do no harm’?,” she posed. “You start by garnering their will and creating opportunities. You start by harvesting their wonder and restoring their faith in humanity. You start by making the path for their journey just a little bit easier. Today, ladies and gentlemen, South Texas College and DHR Health did just that. We will together forever change the landscape of nursing programs and its students. Today, we will elevate health care and re-fund patient care. Today, we celebrate and will set in motion endless possibilities. Gracias. Gracias. Gracias.”

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