|McALLEN, December 4 - Top education leaders from the Rio Grande Valley were at the White House today for President Obama’s College Opportunity Day of Action.
Among those in attendance were South Texas College President Shirley Reed, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD Superintendent Daniel King, and McAllen ISD Superintendent James Ponce.
Obama wants the U.S. to once again lead the world in college attainment and has announced a collaborative effort with colleges and universities, business leaders, and nonprofits to help more students prepare for and graduate from college.
In his remarks about the White House event, PSJA’s King said: “It is an honor to represent our great PSJA community and our region at the capital as we work together as a nation to expand college readiness opportunities for all youth.”
In his remarks about the White House event, McAllen ISD’s Ponce said: “It is always an honor to represent McAllen ISD and our region concerning educational issues. It is a special privilege to be a part of the White House College Opportunity Day of Action, at the behest of the President and the First Lady, to dialogue with leaders from across the country on ways to expand the notion of college success.”
Ponce pointed out that in just one year - 2013-14 - McAllen ISD students earned 15,800 college credit hours while seeking professional licenses, certifications, and associates degrees. “Whether it's through advanced placement or dual enrollment in its comprehensive high schools, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, Associates Degrees-level work in the Achieve Early College High school, career technical education or through the district's higher-education partnerships, that's college level instruction that saves families almost $5 million in college tuition every year,” McAllen ISD’s press office said, in a news release.
“I am proud to say this incredible work is happening today in our schools," Dr. Ponce said. "It's provided by top notch teachers through nationally and internationally recognized programs and through the extensive offering of advanced and specialized academic coursework that is second to none.”
Ponce added that his district’s “record of excellence” sets a foundation that makes it possible for a McAllen ISD student to continue college instruction at the university of his or her choice.
In her remarks about the White House event, STC’s Reed said: “The mission of South Texas College is to create a college-going culture and to serve as a catalyst for social mobility. By partnering with local school districts, we have established a high standard of dual enrollment programs that include Dual2Degree, Early College High Schools and Dual Enrollment Academies.”
Reed said these opportunities “allow students to earn college credit at no cost to their families while they are still enrolled in high school.” She said stackable credentials, guidance from specialized counselors and the level of college curriculum “encourage our dual enrollment students to continue their higher education.”
Reed said STC is focusing on accelerating remediation through Directed Self Placement for English, participating in the New Mathways Project and partnering with 70 local high schools on dual enrollment, reengagement and academy programs.
Reed pointed out that since STC first opened its doors in 1993, it has seen steady growth in its student enrollment starting with 1,058 students to over 31,000 students this fall 2014. It is projected that enrollment will reach more than 42,000 by 2020, Reed added.
STC is nationally ranked as the 4th of the nation’s 1,200 community colleges in awarding associate degrees to Hispanics, 47th in awarding associate degrees to all students and has the highest graduation rate for very large community colleges in Texas.
Participants at the White House event were asked to commit to new action in one of four areas: building networks of colleges around promoting completion, creating K-16 partnerships around college readiness, investing in high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, and increasing the number of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
In a White House news release, President Obama said expanding opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college, especially low-income and underrepresented students, is vital to building a strong economy and a strong middle class.
Obama said he wants the United States to “lead the world in college attainment, as it did a generation ago.” He added that because completing college is key to strengthening the middle class and it should not be a luxury for the few.
One of the key points Obama made that pleased South Texas educators was a commitment to helping students from low-income families.
Expanding opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college, especially low-income and underrepresented students, is vital to building a strong economy and a strong middle class, Obama stated, pointing out that today, only nine percent of those born in the lowest family income quartile attain a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to 54 percent in the top quartile.
In an effort to expand college access, Obama said he has increased Pell scholarships by $1,000 a year, created the new American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college, limited student loan payments to 10 percent of income, and laid out an ambitious agenda to reduce college costs and promote innovation and competition.
U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, praised the Valley education leaders for their commitment to improving educational attainment.
“I congratulate Dr. King and Dr. Ponce for working tirelessly to expand college opportunity to low-income and underrepresented students in our community. Our students are key to building a strong economy and a strong middle class in South Texas,” Hinojosa said.
“I am especially proud that we in South Texas have answered President Obama's call to improve student success and ensure that all students make it to the finish line on graduation day. As President Obama correctly pointed out, ‘completing college is key to strengthening the middle class and should not be a luxury for the few.’ Congratulations again to Dr. King and Dr. Ponce and to everyone who is taking action to help our students succeed.”
U.S. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, gave special praise to King for his work in turning PSJA around from one of the poorest performing school districts in the state of Texas to one that has been recognized nationally.
“The work being done by Dr. King at PSJA is changing the lives of people in South Texas. Through partnerships with higher education entities and innovative learning techniques, he is helping educate our next generation of scientists, medical doctors, engineers, public servants and educators,” Vela said.
“Working with U.S. Congressman Hinojosa, and other colleagues in the House, we will continue to make more educational opportunities available for the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas. Congratulations to Dr. King on his many accomplishments.”