Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed into law House Bill 3348 which allows Austin Community College District (ACC) to expand its baccalaureate degree programs.
The bill was ACC’s signature legislative priority for the 87th Texas Legislative Session. The change is effective immediately and allows ACC to offer up to five bachelor’s degrees.
“Many times it takes at least three sessions to get a bill passed. This was the first session that we attempted to increase the number of baccalaureate degrees we could offer from three to five,” says Dr. Molly Beth Malcolm, ACC executive vice president of Campus Operations & Public Affairs. “Thanks to great teamwork among a coalition of community colleges, we were able to get this bill passed on the first try.”
About Baccalaureate Degrees at ACC
HB 3348 expands the opportunity first provided under Senate Bill 2118, which passed in the 85th Legislative Session. It opened the doors for qualified community colleges in Texas to offer baccalaureate degree pathways. Under the law, colleges that demonstrate a critical workforce need in their region could be approved to offer up to three baccalaureate degrees in the fields of nursing, applied science, and applied technology.
As a result, ACC became the first community college in Texas to receive approval for a baccalaureate program under the law. In fall 2018, ACC launched its Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) for students who already have their RN license. Then, in fall of 2020, the college launched its second baccalaureate program — a Bachelor of Applied Sciences (BAS) degree in software development.
ACC is currently planning its third applied baccalaureate degree focused on manufacturing and engineering technology, two rapidly growing components of the Central Texas regional economy.
“Our local workforce demands are growing, and the training opportunities that exist today cannot keep up. We’re in a unique position to respond, and it’s important to do everything we can to ensure a promising pipeline of skilled workers who have the training and credentials employers need,” says Dr. Charles Cook, ACC provost and executive vice president of Academic Affairs. “For students, the programs provide a flexible and affordable pathway to a bachelor’s degree so they can advance in their career without taking on large student debt.”
A report released by the Education Commission of the States in 2020 indicates a growing demand for bachelor’s degree opportunities within the community college sector. The report cites affordability as a primary motivation.
“Average tuition and fees at community colleges typically are lower than at most four-year institutions, which can help address barriers that students may face related to cost, financial aid and loan debt,” states the report. “Earning a bachelor’s degree from a community college reduces tuition and fees for the first two years and, therefore, students may pay and borrow less for their full program than at a four-year institution.”
HB 3348 now allows ACC to continue growing its program — with the potential to offer up to five applied baccalaureate degrees. This would be equal to the number of applied baccalaureate degrees offered by other community colleges in the state, including Midland College, Brazosport College, and South Texas College.
ACC will continue to work with area employers to explore the need for additional baccalaureate degree pathways in areas such as business management, information technologies, health sciences, and public safety.