Bachelor’s Degrees Set to Expand

The effort to allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in certain fields appears to have broad and bipartisan support in this Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, which concludes in a few days (with the possibility of a Special Session looming).

The bill attracting the most attention is by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), according to an article in the Houston Chronicle by Lindsay Ellis. Lone Star College wants to offer degrees in nursing, and the piece discusses the various pros and cons. Interestingly, nearby Houston Community College is not interested presently in any such expansion. The nursing shortage is undoubtedly felt acutely in the Houston area, with its abundance of hospitals and health care facilities.

In the nursing field, the movement has been criticized by an organization of professionals:

But critics have worried about bachelor’s offerings overlapping with four-year universities, which could take away students and faculty from existing programs that receive state money. The Texas study four years ago warned of this potential, as did the Texas Nursing Association before the legislative session began.

“Until Texas has definitive data on the realistic ability of Texas community colleges to take on the financial and administrative burden that would come with four-year baccalaureate programs, the Legislature should focus its resources on developing and championing the current proven pipeline between community colleges and universities,” the association wrote.

Some commentators have argued that community colleges should not engage in “mission creep,” distracting from the most compelling project of improving rates of student success, particularly in at-risk populations. On the other hand, the limited scope of the proposed enabling legislation seems to require that new programs would be highly focused and relatively small. So far the degrees have been offered in technical fields where local employers have cited a need for specialized training.

Then there is turf. Universities that offer bachelor’s degrees nearby community colleges wishing to do so are concerned that additional programs could draw away students. Duplicative programs are a constant topic in the Legislature and at the Coordinating Board.