Competitive Edge


In classrooms across the country today, there’s a push to not only teach curriculum, but to give students options for their future — whether that leads to college, a technical career, or maybe even both.

Career and Technical Education courses, known as CTE, are offered throughout the Rio Grande Valley as school districts engage in dual enrollment partnerships with South Texas College or the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

These dual enrollment courses are offered mostly to high school juniors and seniors and are free of charge. On the CTE side, most courses are now leading to both industry certificates for students to enter the workforce and college credit to continue their education.

STC has paved the way in dual enrollment partnerships with 24 current agreements with school districts.

“Every student is a CTE student and every CTE course is a college course,” said Linda Uribe, administrator for college readiness at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District. “You will be able to turn around and engage in a high-wage job or you could continue your education at the college level.”

PSJA ISD’s main partner is STC, and the district’s programs have evolved over the years to create its first College and University Center, which is a campus solely dedicated to all the academies available to students from throughout the district.

The center is an addition to the CTE courses offered at the district’s independent high schools. This school year, it opened its doors to about 340 students specializing in one of the academies. Next year, that number is expected to double to about 700 students.

“With CTE, we also provide our students with industry certificates,” Uribe said. “Our goal is that when our kids walk away, they are able to compete in the workforce for high-wage jobs.”

This year, the district graduated about 600 students from STC with a combination of career and technical degrees and certificates, Uribe said.

At STC, there were a total of 1,883 high school students graduating from dual-enrollment courses this spring. 1,451 received associate degrees and 432 earned certificates.

Last year, the total number of dual enrollment graduates was 1,601. The college expects this growth to continue as new programs are created.

At PSJA ISD’s new center, the courses are broken up in endorsements that the students must choose, including the School of STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics — the School of Business and Industry, the School of Public Service and Health Service, and the School of Arts and Humanities.

Academies exist within those schools, such as biology, computer science, business administration, automotive technology, electrician assistant, welding, education, HVAC, and more existing and in-the-works pathways.

“One of the things that we really want to leverage on our CTE department is bringing in those business partners so that we can start making connections with the kids and ensuring that the programs that we are offering are actually the programs that students will be able to find a job in the workforce,” Uribe said.

STC also focuses on having partnerships with industry leaders to take the pulse of different fields to determine where the future is for students.

A new program that STC will be offering this fall is cybersecurity, said Rebecca De Leon, dean of Dual Credit Programs and School District Partnerships. The same pattern will apply so that students can acquire certificates and college credits — stackable career opportunities.

The college works closely with school district officials to determine which courses are in-demand within the student body as well, so that they offer something the students will actually be interested in.

“Any program that is available for our traditional South Texas College students is also available for our dual credit students,” De Leon said. “That’s where the key part of the partnership with the school districts comes into play to determine student interest and the number of students seeking to go in those fields.”

Ongoing meetings to determine fields of interest are attended by district officials, college representatives and department heads, industry representatives, and those in organizations like Workforce Solutions, which has insight on workforce demand.

The new cybersecurity program went through this process. In this case, the college is the one that will open the program as an academy where students from any district can sign up. So far, seven districts have signed up for the first offering this upcoming school year.

“This is going to be the first time that we do this, and we are really excited because it’s exploring opportunities for students that have this interest and they know this is where they want to go,” De Leon said about it being the first class of its kind.

This is just one of the latest examples of the evolution of the careers being offered at the high school level. But school district and college officials said these careers are likely to continue growing and changing to ensure that students are actually investing their time in something that will pay off.

“We want to make sure that what we are doing is aligned with a job now and in the future,” Uribe said. “We don’t want dead-end roads for our kids.”