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Education

San Antonio College Becomes First Local Community College To Offer Four-Year Degree

A San Antonio College nursing student practices using a  stethoscope on a simulation dummy.
Provided | San Antonio College
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The Department of Nursing Education at San Antonio College was founded in 1967.

San Antonio College has received approval to offer the Alamo College District’s first bachelor’s degree. The RN to BSN Bridge Program is designed for licensed registered nurses with associate’s degrees.

The Bridge Program will build on San Antonio College’s existing two-year nursing program, which was founded in 1967. SAC plans to enroll its first cohort in the fall of 2021.

San Antonio College President Robert Vela said SAC’s nursing department was a good candidate for the Alamo Colleges District’s first bachelor’s degree because it has a long history of preparing skilled registered nurses.

“It's a very hard approval process to get through to become fully accredited and approved to offer these types of programs,” Vela said. “I think what helped us is that we have a 50 year plus track record of delivering a quality (Associates Degree of Nursing) program here, which gave us a lot of momentum.”

Nursing department director Stella Cirlos said the RN to BSN Bridge Program is designed for working nurses, with flexible scheduling for a program that can be completed in three full-time semesters.

“It’s a little bit fast paced, but at the same time, being that they’re RNs, they can be working at a hospital at the same time as they’re enrolled,” Cirlos said. “So they can be making a nice salary and still be advancing their education.”

Cirlos said completing a bachelor’s degree gives registered nurses more career opportunities, including leadership roles. A bachelors of science in nursing also makes a nurse more marketable, because local hospital CEOs are trying to hire more nurses with four-year degrees, Vela added.

“There is a layer or a level of excellence that they're wanting to get within their hospitals, which requires that 80% of their nursing employees have BSNs,” he explained.

The RN to BSN program is also designed to be affordable, with the same cost per credit hour as other SAC classes. Vela said the program will likely have some program specific fees, however, to pay for equipment and supplies.

“We're going to keep the program affordable, just like we do for all our programs, to ensure that when students do graduate, they don't have to worry about a large debt to have to pay back in student loans,” he said.

Cirlos said the goal is to keep costs low so that it’s accessible for more students, including SAC graduates and other students who may be the first in their family to go to college.

“A lot of them think, ‘I can't go to a university. I can't afford to live in a dorm. I can't afford close to $40,000 as the end cost for a four-year program,” Cirlos said. “We're trying to give them options and ways to achieve that goal in a very cost effective manner.”

Community colleges have been able to get approval to offer four-year degrees since 2017, when the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 2118.

Vela said it took San Antonio College a year and a half to get approval from everyone involved, including the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the state board of nursing, and SAC’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.