Administrator for High School Programs & Services
The miracle of South Texas. That is what some say the Dual Enrollment/Dual Credit program at South Texas College has done to transform the Rio Grande Valley from a sleepy school-to-work culture to a college-going, college-completion culture.
I had this vision way back as a local high school principal, when I first learned in 1993 that a community college had been established to serve Hidalgo and Starr counties.
“What an opportunity for our students and our community,” I thought. It wasn’t until this moment that this type of educational institution was available to these two counties — almost 700,000 residents without this vital ladder to higher education and a better way of life.
As the principal at McAllen Memorial High School at that time, I knew that many of the students were yawning through the last years of high school. It was evident that not only talking about college, but also connecting them with a tangible pathway to higher education was the motivating factor to keep them meaningfully engaged. This was key during a time with dropout rates among our mostly Hispanic population ran high. Of those who made it to graduation, the refrain I would often hear from many bright, capable students was, “I can’t go to college, sir. I have to work and help support the family.” STC erased this very real excuse and made it even more possible through the Dual Enrollment/Dual Credit program, which the state approved in 1997.
In 1999, when I took over the Dual program at STC, we had 450 students in the fall semester, with only five high schools out of 40 in our service area that were participating as partners in this program. Our policy then was to charge the students $100 per course for taking these classes, whether at their high school or our campus. I found this to be a barrier for most kids since every single high school then, as it is today, qualified for free-and-reduced federal lunch — an indication that most were poor. One hundred dollars just provided an excuse for students to say, “I’ll do it later,” and simply meant that only those financially able to take college classes continued. The dreams of the majority remained bottled up.
In the spring of 2000, our Board of Trustees, with the backing of STC President Dr. Shirley Reed, adopted the policy to waive tuition and fees for students taking college classes at their high schools, and since then, the program has grown to over 14,000 today. Most are taking college classes at their high schools during the school day, at no cost to them or their parents. This has been made possible mainly through the strong partnerships we have established with 24 school districts at 78 high school sites, expanding from the farthest high school in Starr County to that of the city of Hidalgo and everything in between. Our division deans and program chairs have opened their doors to help with the recruitment of over 380 high school teachers with the proper credentials and STC departmental approval to teach college classes. They, too, have been able to provide over 228 STC faculty at many different high schools to teach and cover the ever-increasing high demand for courses in this program.
Since 2000, we have served over 98,000 students in this program, and saved them and their families over $180 million in tuition and fees. More importantly, the availability of a variety of college completion pathways, such as 29 Early College High Schools (ECHS), including two that are CTE Workforce ECHS, and six different Middle College Academies, made it possible to graduate — free of charge — over 880 students with two-year associate degrees in May 2017, two weeks before they graduated from high school. Also, in the Career & Technology (CTE) area, we are graduating close to 1,000 students with one-year certificates that will enhance their pursuit of a career, or that they make use of to acquire a better paying job as they complete a higher degree. Offering CTE dual classes was made possible when I helped write and championed the enactment of HB 415 during the 2003 Texas Legislative session. This bill helped remove dual enrollment rule barriers restricting dual CTE courses, and opened the door, for the first time, for workforce courses to be offered as dual credit classes by our college with our high school partners and throughout the state.
To me, it is not a miracle. It is what happens when policy creates opportunity, and you have the support of key people like our STC president, the members of our board, school superintendents, and leaders and staff at STC, who have helped this along the way. It looks like a miracle only because of the hard work by many individuals at our college and the schools that made it so.
For more information on the program, and how it is sustained financially, please visit our website at www.southtexacollege.edu.