Community colleges are fast-tracking plans to offer bachelor’s degrees to produce more nurses and pre-K teachers.
Collin College officials hope to have a four-year nursing degree program by 2019, and the Dallas County Community College District plans to offer its early childhood education degree soon after. although future degree holders are in preparation long before that.
Hoping to address the state’s critical labor shortages, the Legislature this spring approved legislation allowing community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in high-need fields, including applied sciences, applied technology and nursing.
Texas expects to be short of 70,000 full-time registered nurses by 2020, according to estimates.
“Right now, we’re not even close to making a dent in this for the state,” said Brenda Kihl, executive vice president of Collin College.
Collin College already offers an associate degree in nursing, giving students a path to becoming a registered nurse. Registered nurses who have earned a bachelor’s degree are in high demand because they receive more rigorous training in areas such as leadership and epidemiology.
Donna Hatch, dean of nursing at Collin College, said about 90% of her students earn bachelor’s degrees through partnerships with other universities. Offering a bachelor’s degree at Collin College could mean significant savings for students, she said; tuition there is around $42 per semester, compared to costs at other schools which can exceed $200.
“Being able to get a bachelor’s degree for less than $10,000, to me, is huge and will attract many to the field,” she said. “We’re talking about addressing a catastrophic shortage that if we don’t address, at the end of the day it’s the patients who suffer from not having the staff we need to care for them.”
So far, few community colleges in Texas have received state approval to offer bachelor’s degree programs. Most of them are in rural areas that have limited access to higher education.
To offer a bachelor’s degree, community colleges must obtain approval from an accrediting body as well as the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Council, something Collin College officials said they have been working on for years. years in anticipation of the change in law. The school also opened a health sciences center on its Central Park campus in McKinney last year, which includes a mock emergency room, human patient simulators, an ambulance and nursing labs.
Meanwhile, district officials at Dallas County Community College are focusing on educating the area’s younger children.
Research repeatedly shows that a strong foundation in a quality early childhood education program can do more to ensure better outcomes for children than any intervention carried out later in life. DCCCD Chancellor Joe May said area superintendents repeatedly told him they couldn’t find enough quality educators with solid pre-K teaching experience. The region is short of about 4,350 teachers, he said.
“This is such a critical area that if we don’t get it right, nothing will go right in terms of education and career opportunities,” May said. “If you’re not at grade level grade one, you’re probably never going to reach grade level and you’ll struggle.”
Most teachers working in these grades do so through a General Education Certificate which covers a range of subjects from early childhood through sixth grade. But this session, lawmakers also approved the creation of a new K-3-focused certification that will allow for more specific training in brain development and specialized skills for working with young children.
The DCCCD is designing its Bachelor of Early Childhood Education program around first university high schools which will launch later this month. Dallas ISD students from Bryan Adams and WT White High Schools taking the new early college programs may choose to emphasize early childhood education. They will simultaneously earn high school and college credits, which will allow them to earn an associate’s degree by the time they graduate.
May said those students can then move on to the bachelor’s degree program in 2021. Initial plans are to open the early childhood education degree only to students in the early college program.
The bachelor’s degree program is being developed in consultation with superintendents and area directors to address areas they see as their greatest needs, such as a focus on working with students who are learning English . Students in the program would eventually be placed in local school districts to work in pre-K classrooms while earning their degrees.
DCCCD officials plan to meet with representatives from area hospitals next month to begin working on plans to also offer a bachelor’s degree in nursing. They expect it will take three to four years before this program is operational.