FROM CANDIDACY TO ACCREDITATION:
Austin Community College’s Journey as the First in Texas to Offer an RN-to-BSN Program

By Nina Almasy, DNP, RN, CNE | Department Chair, Professional Nursing | Austin Community College; And Patricia Recek, MSN, RN | Dean of Health Sciences | Austin Community College
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 3, August 2019

In the summer of 2017, the professional nursing department at Austin Community College (ACC) embarked on the journey to develop and implement the RN-to-BSN program by August 2018. In alignment with the college mission, the program aimed to meet the local needs of preparing the nursing workforce at the baccalaureate level by offering an affordable and accessible program in the region.

The journey could be described as a two-step process with an intricate timeline, resembling the famous Texas Two-Step dance. The two major steps of this journey included (a) obtaining all necessary approvals from various regulatory entities and (b) obtaining accreditation. The program had to obtain approval of several regulatory entities, including the college’s Board of Trustees, The Board of Nursing, and the governing organization’s regulatory entities: the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

It was essential that at each step, the timeline for each entity’s needed approval was carefully considered. For example, for submission of the ACEN Candidacy Eligibility Application, ACC needed to include documentation that the program proposal was sent both to the state’s Board of Nursing and the governing organization’s regulatory entities, which are the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Achievement of these two essential steps required ongoing intricate partnership among various stakeholders and entities within and outside the college—and most importantly, keen attention to the timelines to successfully complete both steps.

Early in the program development stages, in order to better understand the local need, the department created the RN-to-BSN Advisory Committee, which is comprised of key area healthcare nurse leaders and nursing schools. In addition, several needs-assessment surveys and focus groups were conducted.

Program and curriculum development was guided by a review of the literature and best practices, as well as consideration of professional guidelines and baccalaureate essentials and competencies. The faculty worked diligently to ensure that the assessment and evaluation methodology for end-of-program student learning outcomes was carefully considered, as they developed the curriculum.

Obtaining nursing education accreditation that was effective for the first graduates of the program was one of the most important steps. We at ACC were committed to ensuring that our BSN graduates were eligible to apply to graduate schools, should they choose to do so. ACC’s associate degree program has been accredited by ACEN for several years, and the relationship with the ACEN had been a positive and collaborative one that allowed us to move forward to candidacy. ACC reached out to then ACEN and Dr. Nell Ard in August 2018 to determine if this aggressive timeline was achievable. Dr. Ard was so responsive from the very beginning, providing essential information to ensure we were progressing correctly.

The journey from ACEN candidacy to accreditation could be described as a collaborative, collegial process. Once the candidacy process began and the program applied for initial accreditation, an ACEN professional staff member, Dr. Ard, was assigned as a mentor and resource. The department chair of the program sought the expertise and supportive guidance offered by the mentor. This mentorship support was key in ensuring that the program not only met candidacy requirements, but also ensured that the program met the ACEN Standards and Criteria. Additionally, the ACEN website offered invaluable information and resources that were useful to the faculty and administrators throughout the entire accreditation process. It is safe to say that no stone was left unturned on the ACEN website!

The candidacy process involved ongoing review of the curriculum and the systematic plan for evaluation by a team of faculty and college leadership. Upon granting candidacy status, the ACEN also provided two comprehensive, independent reviews of the Candidacy presentation conducted by the ACEN professional staff. The faculty carefully examined the two reviews and staff input, then made necessary adjustments and revisions to the systematic plan for evaluation to ensure that the program is not only high quality, but also on track to meeting all ACEN Standards and Criteria for initial accreditation.

ACC was granted candidacy in June 2018, had the site visit in February 2019, and is awaiting action from the commission in September 2019, the final step in our accreditation journey.