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Featured: Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, addresses fellow legislators and other area elected officials, business leaders and community advocates on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Pharr Public Safety Communications Building, located at 100 West Ferguson. Muñoz’s efforts on behalf of public safety and law enforcement also include his key role in 2015 as the author of successful legislation that resulted in the creation of the South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence in Pharr.

Photograph By PETER SALINAS

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Legislation in 2017 supported by Rep. Muñoz, along with rest of Valley state legislative delegation, now bringing Bachelor of Science in Nursing to STC

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

A legislative proposal approved by Texas lawmakers in 2017, which included unanimous support from the Valley’s state legislative delegation, is soon going to bring a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to South Texas College, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, has announced.

Senate Bill 2118, authored by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and sponsored by Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, became state law in the Spring of 2017, and as a result, will begin at STC beginning in Spring 2020.

The author is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author). The Senate allows multiple primary authors for each bill or resolution. The House of Representatives allows only one primary author, the House member whose signature appears on the original measure and on the copies filed with the chief clerk. Both chambers also have coauthors, and the House of Representatives has joint authors.

The sponsor is the legislator who guides a bill through the legislative process after the bill has passed the originating chamber. The sponsor is a member of the opposite chamber of the one in which the bill was filed.

“South Texas College continues to be a leader in higher education, innovation, and progress at the state level, as evidenced by the fact that it will now be offering five baccalaureate degrees with the addition of this Bachelor of Science in Nursing,” said Muñoz, whose House District 36 includes major campuses of STC. “Senate Bill 2118 allows STC and other community colleges to help address the nursing shortage in Texas.”

Senate Bill 2118 is designed to help address the state’s nursing shortage by allowing the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to approve community college baccalaureate degrees in nursing, Muñoz said. In addition, nurses who completed a four-year degree might go on to pursue careers in teaching, which could help alleviate nursing faculty shortages.

As a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, Muñoz helped secure more than $194 million over the next two years, beginning September 1, 2019, for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. That figure includes $69 million for the University of Texas School of Medicine, which is an increase of $12 million from the previous session (in 2017), and $2 million in first time funding for the Cervical Dysplasia Cancer Immunology Center.

He also shaped the state’s two-year budget to include more than $84 million over the next two years, beginning September 1, 2019, for South Texas College.

Muñoz is one of only two Rio Grande Valley lawmakers who serve on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations, which shaped the two-year $250.7 billion state budget, which covers the period from Sunday, September 1, 2019, through Tuesday, August 31, 2021.

(https://www.texastribune.org/2019/05/26/texas-budget-house-senate-2019/)

“From January through May 2019, during the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature, I used my experience and influence as a veteran member of the House Committee on Appropriations to come up with a state spending plan that includes property tax reform, school finance improvements, teacher pay raises, an extra paycheck for retired teachers, protecting the state health insurance program for retired teachers, and much more,” said Muñoz. 

According to Joey Gómez, a Public Relations Specialist for STC, campus administrators and faculty from STC’s Nursing and Allied Health Division will meet at 10 a.m. on Monday, November 25, 2019, to announce the start of the BSN degree program. The event, which is open to the public, will take place on the first floor of its NAH Campus Building B, located at 1901 S. McColl Road in McAllen.

Also according to Gómez:

The BSN Program is currently in the process of selecting and enrolling the students who will comprise the initial cohort in Spring 2020.

“The healthcare delivery system is becoming more complex. Patient acuity is increasing and according to statistics, between 2010 and 2030, one in five Americans will be reaching the age of 65 years old and above,” said Dr. Jayson Valerio, Dean of STC’s Nursing and Allied Health Campus. “Along with that aging population, there will be an increasing occurrence of chronic illnesses so we need a highly educated nursing workforce to take care of the people within our community.”

While an Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) program is tasked with instructing students on the basic nursing and technical aspects, the BSN curriculum will be focused more on leadership, critical thinking, nursing informatics, management and supervision as well as research and evidence-based courses.

The BSN program will be comprised of classes that will be a hybrid of online and traditional learning. All the courses will be conducted in eight-week mini-mesters, both for full-time and part-time tracks.

A mini-mester is a short semester, ranging from five weeks to 14 weeks. Mini-mesters make it possible to complete the same course with the same quality of instruction, but on a shorter schedule. Some of mini-mester courses are offered in the traditional classroom setting and others are online.

Due to the accelerated pace, full-time students will likely complete their BSN within one year of beginning the program while the part-time track will take 18 months to complete.

The offering of the RN-to-BSN Program at STC is a response to the recommendation of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), formerly known as the Institute of Medicine, which is calling for a significant increase in Bachelor-trained nurses by the next decade.

NAM is recommending at least 80 percent of nurses in the workforce to be baccalaureate-prepared by 2020.

STC initially held a media event in 2017 with Valley lawmakers announcing the passage of Texas Senate Bill 2118 during the 85th Legislative Session, which authorized public junior colleges to offer baccalaureate degree programs in the fields of applied science, applied technology, and nursing.

Now, almost three years later, the program has been approved by its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) for authorization as well as by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Board of Nursing to begin the BSN by spring 2020.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), headquartered in Austin, is a state agency that oversees all public post-secondary education in the state. The Board is comprised of nine members appointed by the Governor for six-year staggered terms and one non-voting student representative who serves for a one year term. The Governor also appoints the chair and vice-chair. The Board meets quarterly in Austin and all meetings are broadcast live on the Internet.

A bill analysis of Senate Bill 2118 provided the following highlights of the measure:

Previous law required the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to authorize public junior colleges that had previously participated in a related pilot project to offer baccalaureate degree programs in applied science and applied technology. 

Senate Bill 2118 amends the Education Code to instead generally authorize the coordinating board to authorize public junior colleges to offer baccalaureate degree programs and specifically authorize the coordinating board to authorize baccalaureate degree programs at one or more junior colleges that offer a degree program in applied science, applied technology, or nursing and have demonstrated a workforce need. 

The bill decreases the limit on the number of baccalaureate degree programs a junior college may offer at any time from five to three, with an exception for a junior college that previously participated in an applicable pilot project.

The House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives, provided more insights into the background and objectives of Senate Bill 2118 when it was heard, and approved, by the House of Representatives in 2017:

Digest

Senate Bill 2118 would allow the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to authorize baccalaureate degree programs at one or more public junior colleges that offered certain degree programs and had demonstrated a workforce need. 

Eligible junior colleges would offer a program in nursing, applied technology, or applied science, including an applied science program with an emphasis on early childhood education. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board would continue to be required to authorize baccalaureate degree programs in the fields of applied science and applied technology at junior colleges that previously participated in a pilot program.

Junior colleges would be limited to offering three baccalaureate degree programs at any time, except that those that had previously participated in a pilot program still could offer up to five. 

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board would be required to use the same standards and criteria for approving baccalaureate degree programs at general academic teaching institutions and medical and dental units to determine whether a junior college would be allowed to offer a baccalaureate degree program and what degree programs could be offered.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board also would be required to consider the workforce need, whether the associate degree program offered by the junior college in the same field had been successful, and the college’s ability to support the program with student enrollment, in addition to other factors currently in statute.

A junior college could offer a baccalaureate degree program only if its junior college district had a taxable property valuation amount of not less than $6 billion in the preceding year and received a positive assessment of the overall financial health of the district. 

Before it could be authorized to offer a baccalaureate program, the junior college also would be required to submit a report to the- that included:

• A long-term financial plan for accreditation from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools;
• A long-term plan for faculty recruitment that indicated the ability to pay the increased salaries of doctoral faculty, identified recruitment strategies for new faculty and ensured the program would not draw
• Faculty from a neighboring institution offering a similar program;
• Details on the manner of program and course delivery; and
• Details on existing articulation agreements and dual enrollment agreements.

The information on existing articulation agreements would need to indicate that at least three articulation agreements had been established with general academic teaching institutions or medical and dental units or the reasons why no articulation agreements had been established. It also would indicate that, with the agreement of the applicable general academic teaching institution or medical and dental unit, established articulation agreements were at capacity.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board could not authorize a junior college to offer a baccalaureate degree if articulation agreements with general academic teaching institutions or medical and dental units were sufficient to meet the needs in the degree field.

To determine the authorization of a junior college to offer a degree program in nursing, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board would have to:

• Require a public junior college to provide evidence to the coordinating board and the Texas Board of Nursing that the junior college had secured adequate long-term clinical space;
• Obtain a letter from each clinical site provided indicating that the clinical site had not refused a similar request from a general academic teaching institution or medical and dental unit; and
• Establish that the corresponding associate degree program offered by the public junior college had been successful as indicated by job placement rates and licensing exam scores.

A baccalaureate degree program in the field of nursing would be a Bachelor of Science degree program and meet the standards and criteria the Texas Board of Nursing used to approve pre-licensure degree programs at general academic teaching institutions and medical and dental units, regardless of whether the program was a pre-licensure or post-licensure program. The program would have to be accredited by a national nursing accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

A public junior college offering a baccalaureate degree program in nursing also would be required to demonstrate to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that it would maintain or exceed the enrollment available to nursing students enrolled in an associate degree program at the junior college in the 2016-17 academic year and continue to maintain or exceed that level of enrollment in the corresponding associate degree program until the 2021-22 academic year. This requirement would expire on January 1, 2023.

A baccalaureate degree program at a junior college could be funded solely by a proportionate share of state appropriations, local funds, and private sources. The bill would not require the Legislature to appropriate state funds to support a baccalaureate degree program at a junior college. The coordinating board would have to weigh contact hours attributable to students enrolled in a junior-level or senior-level course offered by a program to determine a college’s proportionate share of state appropriations in the same manner as a lower division course in a corresponding field.

A public junior college would be prohibited from charging students more for tuition and fees than it charged to a similarly situated student enrolled in an associate degree program in a corresponding field.
The bill would require each public junior college offering a baccalaureate degree program to conduct a review and deliver a report to the coordinating board every biennium on the quality, operation, and effectiveness of the baccalaureate degree programs offered.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board would adopt rules as necessary for the administration of the bill’s provisions.

Senate Bill 2118 took effect on September 1, 2017.

Supporters said:

Senate Bill 2118 would help address the workforce needs of the state by allowing the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to approve degree programs in applied science, applied technology, and nursing at public junior colleges, which could offer affordable programs that would be subject to high academic standards. 

While certain community colleges already have been granted approval to offer baccalaureate degrees, the bill would expand this opportunity to other qualified schools in Texas.

The bill would help address the growing need for early childhood educators in the state’s school districts by creating more baccalaureate degree programs in early childhood education. Receiving quality education in early grades is critical for a student’s long-term success. For example, a young student’s reading proficiency is a strong indicator of success in high school. 

Allowing for more teachers to be specially prepared in early childhood education could improve the quality of education provided to younger students and could subsequently improve student results across the state.

Senate Bill 2118 also could help address the state’s nursing shortage by allowing the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to approve community college baccalaureate degrees in nursing. In addition, nurses who completed a four-year degree might go on to pursue careers in teaching, which could help alleviate nursing faculty shortages.

The bill would ensure that baccalaureate degrees offered by community colleges did not overlap with the offerings of four-year institutions. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board would be required to consider whether a baccalaureate degree program at a public junior college would duplicate the degree programs offered by other institutions of higher education when determining whether to authorize a program. 

The bill also would include specific provisions to guard against faculty members being drawn away from a neighboring institution. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board would have to use the same criteria it uses to approve baccalaureate degree programs at general academic teaching institutions, so the quality of education would not be compromised.

Opponents said:

Senate Bill 2118 could compromise the quality of education being provided to students and might duplicate programs already being offered by four-year institutions. The bill would not alleviate the nursing shortage because there currently is a shortage of nursing faculty. Creating more nursing programs at junior colleges could create competition for nursing faculty among institutions in the state.

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Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, has served in the Texas Legislature since 2011 and represents all or parts of the cities of Hidalgo, Granjeño, McAllen, Mission, Palmview and Pharr. His Capitol office is located at CAP 4S.2 in the Texas Capitol and may be reached at (512) 463-0704. His District Office is located at 121 E. Tom Landry, Mission, and may be reached at (956) 584-8999. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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