Two Lone Star College System campuses located near Tomball and Magnolia will offer the system’s first bachelor’s degrees this fall, a process that began more than 15 years ago to afford students low-cost, four-year degrees close to home, LSCS Chancellor Stephen Head said.
LSC-University Park, located near Hwy. 249 and Louetta Road, will offer a Bachelor of Science degree in energy, manufacturing and trades management. LSC-Montgomery, located off Hwy. 242 in The Woodlands, will house the inaugural transition program from registered nurse to Bachelor of Science in nursing, according to LSCS information.
A third bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity will be offered at the LSC-Westway Park Technology Center near Beltway 8 and Hwy. 290. LSC-North Harris at FM 1960 and I-45 will also offer the management program.
To bolster in-demand workforce programs, Senate Bill 2118, passed by the Texas Legislature in 2017, authorized community colleges to offer up to three bachelor’s degrees in applied science, applied technology and nursing upon approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, according to the bill summary.
“You hear a lot [from] companies that there’s a shortage of skilled labor. We’re trying to fill a niche that hasn’t been met, so I think in the long term what’s going to happen is we’re going to help keep people here [in the community],” Head said.
The application period opened Feb. 3, and Valerie Jones, the associate vice chancellor of academic affairs, said as of Feb. 12, LSCS had received more applicants than seats available.
Over time, Head said he envisions expanding the bachelor’s programs to other LSCS campuses, including LSC-Tomball.
“We will seek to grow the program for all of our campus areas as quickly as we’re able to do so with resources and prioritizing the quality of the bachelor’s degrees,” Jones said.
LSCS’ programs are among the 21 degrees approved for community colleges since 2017 and nine launched prior to 2017, said Stacey Silverman, the assistant commissioner for academic quality and workforce for the THECB.
In 2003, the state authorized Brazosport College, Midland College and South Texas College to each offer up to five bachelor’s degrees, according to a 2014 state-mandated study from the RAND Corp., a nonprofit institution doing research and analysis.
After more than a decade of assessing the initial programs, the Legislature expanded bachelor’s degrees to all community colleges, Silverman said.
“The universities had questions about whether or not community colleges should be offering four-year degrees, and our argument was these are workforce programs [and] four-year schools normally do not offer workforce programs,” Head said.
Since 2017, LSCS has worked to receive regional accreditation from the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges as well as approval from the THECB, Head said.
The Legislature also mandated bachelor’s programs align with the community college tuition rate, Jones said.
“The tuition is the same as it is for the community college, which means that you’ll be able to get a four-year degree for less than $20,000,” Head said.
Students residing within LSCS’ service area taking 12 credit hours in 2019-20 would pay $862 in tuition and fees per semester, according to LSCS information, while tuition and fees at public universities—such as Sam Houston State University, University of Houston and Texas A&M University—each cost at least $4,200 per semester, according to information from the universities.
“Earning an affordable degree through Lone Star will allow [our students] to keep their talents and their foundation here to help grow our community into the future,” said Anita Hebert, Magnolia ISD’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, in a statement.
Head said no new facilities were needed to offer the programs this fall, and the system has set aside money the last several years to accommodate the programs, although an exact amount could not be provided. About $300 million of the system’s $485 million bond referendum voters approved in 2014 is going to workforce facilities, Head said, such as the LSC-Westway Park Technology Center, which opened in January 2019 and houses the cybersecurity program.
“When you get people trained at this level, it helps the economy because they make money; they buy houses and cars; they vote and all the reasons you want an educated public,” Head said. “Over the long term, it not only helps the college, but it helps our local communities.”
As of fall 2019, 33.61% of LSCS students who reside within Tomball and Magnolia ISD boundaries attended the Montgomery and University Park campuses, LSCS data shows, both of which will offer bachelor’s programs.
TISD Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora said TISD has placed an emphasis on similar industries with its Academy of Energy and International Business opening in August in partnership with BJ Services.
“Our students have a unique advantage of receiving everything they need for the excellent job opportunities that await them in our community through these innovative programs,” Salazar-Zamora said in a statement. “We are also investigating other opportunities for the future that may involve a partnership with a local hospital for prenursing and possibly a cybersecurity program of study designed for [career and technical education].”
In deciding what programs to offer, LSC-Montgomery President Rebecca Riley said LSCS assessed the labor market as well as degree opportunities in the Greater Houston area.
“With the [three degrees], we determined that either there wasn’t anything [comparable] or the demand was greater than the current ability to meet the needs,” she said.
Head said campuses were selected based on industry location.
“The Woodlands is a medical center. Then the manufacturing is down at the south end of our system,” he said.
Silverman said community colleges must notify all institutions within a 50-mile radius of their intent to offer a bachelor’s program and resolve any concerns before submitting a degree proposal to the coordinating board.
“That application [to the THECB] requires not only that we provide information about the curriculum, but that we show the economic need in our area, that we show support from our other higher education partners in a 50-mile radius in our area that there is a demand that is not currently being met, and that should something go awry, we have a higher education partner who would be able to complete [the degree] for our students,” Jones said.
Riley said she believes there is a •shortage of nurses with bachelor’s degrees not only because it is a growing profession but also because larger hospitals are meeting accreditation requirements—such as trauma levels—that mandate education requirements for staff.
“A lot of those nurses—working nurses—need to go back to school to get a bachelor’s degree in order to either advance their career or in some cases to keep their current employment. The RN to BSN transition program is kind of the answer to that. It’s a program that doesn’t make you start over,” Riley said.
The Texas Workforce Commission projects 13,198 registered nurses will be added from 2016-26—an increase of 25.1%—in the Gulf Coast region, which includes Harris and Montgomery counties.
LSC-Montgomery will accept about 30-35 students for its first RN to BSN class, Riley said, while the other bachelor’s programs will enroll 50 students at each location, Jones said.
“As this program grows and expands, this is helping us to meet a critical workforce need in our community,” Riley said. “The Lone Star College-Montgomery campus sits in an area where within two blocks of where we have four or five major hospitals.”
As community colleges can offer no more than three bachelor’s degrees, LSCS would need to get legislative approval to offer additional programs or phase out an existing program and seek THECB approval to offer a different degree, Silverman said.
“We want to make sure we work with our university partners. If they’re offering the program, we’re not going to offer it. We’re not competing with them; we’re partnering with them,” Head said.
LSCS can expand existing programs to additional campuses, which Head said LSCS will likely do slowly. While the cybersecurity and management degrees will likely remain at the initial locations due to facility costs, the nursing program may expand to campuses to the west, including LSC-Tomball.
“We have a really high-performing nursing department now,” LSC-Tomball President Lee Ann Nutt said. “When I think about how is Tomball going to expand, we’re going to build health science programs; we’re going to expand in our health science area. It’s becoming a little bit of a niche for us, so I think that’s just a natural next step.”
Eric Evans, CEO of HCA Houston Healthcare Tomball, said the advent of a Bachelor of Science in nursing at LSCS will help meet local demand for nursing positions.
“As we pursue Magnet status, which is a nursing designation ... it’s important not only to Tomball but also HCA at large to have a pipeline of BSN nurses, so we very much appreciate Lone Star College investing in the BSN program,” he said.