College Readiness in The Community

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Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Focus was founded in 2012 as a collective initiative with Educate Texas and Communities Foundation of Texas. With a mission to transform college readiness, RGV Focus has been helping students in the community succeed after high school for over 10 years and continues to do so today.

As director of RGV Focus for Educate Texas, Rebecca Lopez manages and implements RGV Focus initiatives.

“Many districts in the Valley actually start [discussing college] pretty early. Often the conversation starts at the elementary school level as far as talking about career pathways,” Lopez said.

School districts in the Rio Grande Valley participate in several programs offered through RGV Focus. Lopez discussed some of the most notable ones, beginning with College & Career Ready School Models (CCRSM).

Since the Early College High School model was introduced in the Valley in 2005, the community has made significant efforts to provide early college opportunities to students in the region. The Rio Grande Valley has one of the most robust networks of CCRSM of any region in the state.

“This has had a tremendous impact on low-income and first-generation families and given students no-cost pathways toward certificates, credentials and associate degrees, as well as the preparation and confidence to pursue bachelor’s degrees,” Lopez said.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), another education program, brings federal dollars into the RGV community, serving students with grants to help financially prepare for college.

GEAR UP is a seven-year program created by the United States Department of Education “designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education,” Lopez said.

Today, three GEAR UP grants are operating through Region One Education Service Center (ESC), which covers the Rio Grande Valley.

Two grants serve students set to graduate in 2024 in 29 different school districts and one grant serves students set to graduate in 2027 in 13 other school districts.

For students who are interested in joining the workforce right away instead of pursuing higher education, RGV Focus’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs provide that option.

CTE programs train students to meet challenging academic standards and obtain relevant knowledge and skills for further education or careers in current or emerging professions.

Lopez also wants to help the community understand that any education beyond high school can significantly contribute to the future economic stability of individuals and families.

“For many years, the emphasis was on the four-year bachelor’s degree, but more and more, we are seeing the economic impact that certificates, associate’s degrees, and industry-based certifications can have on individuals,” Lopez said.

For more information on RGV Focus, visit edtx.org/rgv-focus/home.