Tyler Junior College just received a big promotion.
TJC has advanced from a Level I institution of higher education to Level II. The announcement was made Tuesday in Atlanta, Georgia, during the annual meeting of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools/Commission on Colleges, which provides accreditation for institutions of higher learning.
“We are beyond thrilled,” TJC President Dr. Mike Metke said. “It’s a great day for us and a feather in our cap – but more importantly, it’s going to mean big benefits for our students.”
Level II status means TJC has the same level of staff and procedures required of four-year institutions.
“Our professors, library services and financial standards all meet the same criteria required of colleges that award baccalaureate degrees,” Metke said.
“So, you can come to TJC and receive the same high quality education you’d get at a four-year college, but you’ll pay community college prices. That’s a win for everyone.”
Metke said the process for Level II designation was due to the Texas Legislature’s approval of a baccalaureate degree for TJC in dental hygiene. The required degree for this field, a bachelor’s degree in science, means TJC is the first and only community or junior college in Texas authorized to offer a Bachelor of Science degree.
“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. “Going through the process for the baccalaureate degree really helped propel us to Level II in record time.”
Dr. Juan E. Mejia, TJC provost and vice president for academic and student affairs, is no stranger to legislative approval and accreditation processes for community colleges.
Mejia helped shepherd South Texas College to its designation as the first Texas community college to pilot a baccalaureate degree in 2003, when he was STC vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer.
“TJC has a strong culture of meeting the needs of the local community,” Mejia said, “and it is because of our trustees’ vision, the leadership of President Metke, and the commitment to excellence by the faculty and staff, that TJC was able to accomplish this paramount feat and attain the outcomes that we did.”
Currently, only three other community colleges in Texas have Level II status: Brazosport College (located 254 miles from Tyler), Midland College (428 miles) and South Texas College (539 miles); and TJC is the only one authorized to offer the Bachelor of Science degree.
TJC’s first bachelor’s degree
The Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene is the first four-year degree being offered at TJC.
No other four-year dental hygiene program existed between Dallas and Shreveport, so Metke and his leadership team felt confident that TJC could fill an area need.
Plus, since TJC had just opened the new Robert M. Rogers Nursing & Health Sciences Center, the school had the latest equipment and technology already in place.
In early 2015, TJC leaders put the plan in motion and began pursuing approval from the Texas Legislature. 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.
Numerous public entities, including the city of Tyler and Tyler ISD, passed resolutions supporting TJC’s drive to offer the degree; and through the hard work of key East Texas 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.
“The success of this bill was due in large part to TJC’s unique ability to help meet one of East Texas’ greatest unmet healthcare needs,” Clardy said. “Dental care is a critical need and TJC was the only educational institution in the region with the facilities and expertise required for this specialized baccalaureate program.”
In August 2016, the inaugural class of 15 TJC students began pursuing their bachelor’s degree.
TJC’s bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene grew out of a need in the 35-county area for quality training and patient care; and additional opportunities for expanded care and community service that a teaching college can provide, along with its many partnerships, will help TJC reach thousands of people through its medical outreach programs. UT Health Northeast currently shares space in the TJC Dental Clinic and helps provide direct care.
Metke said, “Should another specialized workforce-related bachelor’s degree arise that others aren’t able to fill, TJC will always be mindful of the community we serve and provide assistance as necessary.
“I want to make clear that we are still TJC – Tyler Junior College. We are still who we have been for the past 90 years, and we are still one of the best community colleges anywhere.”
The new designation brings about many opportunities for new programmatic offerings, he said, however, TJC’s mission and name remain unchanged.