Grayson College is one step closer to offering its nursing students the option to earn a bachelor’s degree, after legislation allowing Texas junior colleges to provide baccalaureate programs was officially signed into law last week.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gave his seal of approval on Senate Bill 2118 Monday, giving state community colleges that meet certain criteria the go-ahead to offer bachelor’s degrees in the fields of applied sciences, applied technology and nursing.

“It’s an exciting thing when your college can begin to offer a bachelor’s degree,” Grayson College President Jeremy McMillen said. “It’s a neat and new dynamic for us.”

McMillen and members of Grayson College’s nursing program traveled to Austin earlier this year, where they and other community college representatives spoke to lawmakers during the 85th Legislative Session about the growing need for more educated and capable nurses throughout Texas. The college president said the group’s testimony in support of the bachelor’s of science in nursing option, coupled with the help of bill sponsors including Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, were key in overcoming the legislative hurdle.

“We’ve still got to go through the (Texas Higher Education) Coordinating Board for approval, get accreditation approval, and hire faculty to get the program rolling,” McMillen said. “But the very first step was to obtain legislative approval, so we’re really excited that we did.”

Phillips said he was glad to see the bill pass with approval from the Texas Senate and House of Representatives just one day before the legislative session drew to a close. He added that the passage of the bill would not have been possible without the intrastate cooperation.

“We had to work very hard together, not only with our college, but with other colleges and colleagues across the state to achieve this,” Phillips said. “And I was very pleased that we were able to get this completed.”

Sen. Craig Estes, R-Sherman, also voted in favor of SB 2118. He could not be reached for comment on the bill.

Grayson College currently offers nursing students the option to earn their associate degree in nursing through a 60-credit-hour program but would expand its class offerings to fulfill the 120 credit hours the state mandates for a Bachelor of Science in nursing. Grayson’s Nursing Associate Degree Program Director Jamie McKinney said the associate degree plan provides nursing students with the basics, but the bachelor’s program will focus on more specific areas of the occupation.

“The bachelor’s degree courses will be more based on leadership and management, as well as nursing theory and community health,” McKinney said. “These are more specialized areas of nursing, whereas the ADN is a lot more about learning the nursing fundamentals, the diseases processes and the hands-on skills.”

And with added classes come the need for more professors to teach them.

“We will definitely be looking to expand some of our faculty to be able to accommodate the students that would be coming for the BSN program,” McKinney said of the Bachelor of Science in nursing program. “Right now, we’re still kind of in the planning phase of how many we’ll need and the structuring of the program and everything, but we’ll definitely be needing to hire a few additional faculty.”

To help nursing students earn their bachelor’s degree, Grayson College currently utilizes credit-transferring articulation degrees with the 10 state colleges, among them the University of Texas at Arlington, Texas Tech University and the University of Houston. McKinney said those articulation agreements will remain in place because Grayson College can only take on so many baccalaureate students as the program gets off the ground, but also because the school simply wants to increase the number of skilled and educated nurses working in the area.

“These partnerships will absolutely continue,” McKinney said. “All of these schools have great programs and we will encourage the students to go on to wherever they want to go. Our main focus is just getting more bachelor-degreed nurses out there, so this is just another option for students to consider.”

McKinney said she and Grayson College administrators are not yet sure when they will learn the status of their accreditation, but expressed confidence that the program will get the green light. She added that the new Bachelor of Science in nursing program will allow students to further their education and improve the quality of care patients receive, all right here in Grayson County.

“What we’ve done is provide a local option for students,” McKinney said. “Our students have already been in this environment, they’re comfortable with the professors they’ve worked with and they know if they have a question, they can just drive up to the school and have a meeting. We really think that the local option, the accessibility, the affordability can really benefit these students, as well as the patients that they’ll care for.”