Tyler Junior College can now offer four-year degrees.
Students have already begun working toward a Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene and a new designation will allow the college to add additional four-year degree plans in the future.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools/Commission on Colleges - the organization that accredits TJC - announced on Tuesday that it had promoted the college to a Level II institution, or one which can offer bachelor degree programs, according to a news release from the school.
"Christmas has come early," TJC President Mike Metke said.
He said the four-year dental hygiene bahelor's degree, which was approved by the Texas Legislature this year, made way for the accreditation as a Level II school.
During the process to gain approval for that program, the school's staff, procedures and assets were reviewed to ensure the school met the same standards as four-year colleges, Metke said.
"The fact that this happened so efficiently – from legislative approval in the summer of 2015 to SACS approval in December 2016 – shows we already had all of the chess pieces in place," Metke said in a statement. "Going through the process for the baccalaureate degree really helped propel us to Level II in record time."
Although the designation makes way for TJC to add degrees, Metke said the school has not announced any plans for additional bachelor degree programs and would focus on growing its first four-year program before considering other degrees. Metke added that the designation will not change the school's mission or name.
"We're going to focus on getting this one done and getting it right," Metke said.
The dental hygiene program's inaugural class of 15 students began pursuing their bachelor's degree in August.
Metke said that while Bachelor of Art degree programs also would be a possibility under the new designation, the school would likely favor the pursuit of new applied workforce programs.
"If there are other workforce demands in the region not being filled, then we'd be nimble enough to do that," he said.
Metke said the designation should be an encouragement to students that they are getting the same quality of education as a four-year school at the cost of a community college.
In early 2015, TJC leaders put the plan in motion and began pursuing approval from the Texas Legislature for its four-year dental hygiene program. Legislative action on the issue first was granted in late 2015, after State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and State Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, filed companion bills in the Texas Legislature to create the program, according to the school.
Numerous public entities, including the city of Tyler and Tyler ISD, passed resolutions supporting TJC's drive to offer the degree; and through efforst of legislators Eltife, Clardy and State Rep. Matt Schaefer, the bills amended the Texas Education Code to allow the Texas Education Coordinating Board to approve the program for TJC.
Both bills passed the state Legislature, and the coordinating board subsequently approved the program.
Currently, only three other community colleges in Texas have Level II status: Brazosport, Midland College and South Texas College. TJC is the only one of the four authorized to offer the Bachelor of Science Degree.