MCALLEN, RGV – South Texas College President Shirley A. Reed says dual credit is transforming the Rio Grande Valley. 

Dual credit refers to students completing a single course to earn academic credits that are recognized by two or more institutions. 

Reed spoke about the challenges that public school districts and higher education institutions face when they work together to give students a dual enrollment experience  at the start of the 5th Annual College for All Conference hosted by Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD. 

STC and PSJA were the original partners at offering dual credit in the Valley.

“I am here to tell you that probably the hardest part of this dual enrollment work is getting a higher ed partner,” Reed told an audience of educators and school and college administrators from 11 different states.

“We have been in this business of dual credit for a decade now. PSJA is one of many partners (STC has). We have 23 districts we work with, 78 high schools, 29 early college high schools, 12,000 dual credit students.”

Reed acknowledged that the dual credit program is a “very big and demanding part of South Texas College.”

She then cited Valley statistics from before dual credit started, making the case that the program had transformed this region. 

“Just before Dr. King came up (to speak), I said to him, Danny, I wonder what this region would be like if we had not have started this dual credit program. Double digit unemployment, poverty at the 60 percent level, the college going rate less than 40 percent,” Reed said, referencing Daniel P. King, superintendent of PSJA.

“I do believe dual credit has been transformative for the region. I applaud what PSJA has done. Just image the courage to make college available for all. We have our hands full making it available for the select, gifted, few, let alone for all.”

Reed said that since the advent of dual credit the Valley has been able to increase the college going rate from 40 percent to around 60 percent. What a difference that is making in the life of families in our community. The economic development of our community, graduates are going into good-paying jobs.”

But, Reed warned, he work is not easy.

“A colleague, Dr. Juan Mejia is here, from Tyler. He said you guys (Reed and King) are moving at the speed of light. Well, we are but that great big headlight I sometimes think is a 100-mile an hour freight train coming right our way,” Reed said, raising a laugh from the audience. “I always say, I don’t know if this program is absolute lunacy or just brilliant. There is that kind of challenge dealing with it.”

Reed then spoke about the critics of dual credit.

“There are naysayers that just don’t believe high school students are ready for college-level work. We have proved them wrong. We have a coordinating board in Texas that challenges the work we are doing. Is it really of rigor? Is it comparable to what is going on at our universities? We have our legislature questioning, how should we fund it, how should we continue funding it. It is a constant challenge to advocate for this program, maintain the quality of it, provide access that was never available before. But the results are worth it.”

Reed said STC is now getting data now that shows dual credit students outperform students who had no dual credit when they went to the universities. 

“They graduate at higher rates. They have better GPAs. All the data indicates that this works. But, it is threatening to a lot of people. A lot of people still question if this is the new direction. I think it is.”

Reed even went as far as predicting dual credit will transform higher ed. 

“Our universities are going to find themselves with 16 and 17 year old juniors and, as Dr. King said, students going to law school at 21. It is going to be transformative for higher ed.”

King told the public school educators and administrators in the audience that they could not do dual credit without a willing higher ed partner.

“You can’t do this alone. It does not matter if it is a university or a community college or a technical college, you have got to get them drinking the Kool-Aid. If they don’t join you and sip on the Kool-Aid, you won’t be successful with your legislature to change funding systems. That is key.”

Reed said that in Texas, STC has had the good fortune to secure funding for dual credit.

“We get our formula funding for dual credit students and the school districts get their ADA funding. That gives us adequate revenue to make these programs viable. I know this is not the case in most states. You have to be relentless advocates for changing the legislation or it is just too difficult to do,” Reed said.

“We do our program tuition free. 12,000 students not paying tuition, it is not easy, trust me. We got a lot of pushback. There were a lot of times when I said, I am backing out, too. But, we are trying to stay the course and make it all work.”

Reed concluded her remarks by noting a couple of new developments. 

“The accrediting body for higher ed are becoming very concerned about dual credit. You are from all over the country, there are different regional accrediting bodies but the southern association, Florida, on up on east coast, Texas, Louisiana, they have put in place some rather stringent requirements for the higher ed partners which will probably cause concern for your potential partners,” Reed explained.

“They want to be assured that faculty credentials meet the standard of any college or university faculty. They want to want to be sure the rigor is there, the student outcomes are there.”

A new challenge, she explained, is the higher ed accrediting bodies want to make sure that dual credit students have had appropriate advising, that the higher ed partner and the school district partner have put in place systems to help students get on a pathway, help them select a pathway and help them stay on that pathway. 

“Those will be new accountability standards for higher ed partners. We are dealing with it in Texas as we speak,” Reed said.

Reed added:

“I have every confidence that every school district in every state can do this work. Where I think we fall short is the will to do the work, the will to take the chance, the will to make the commitment. It’s tough. The comment about it’s kind of like a marriage, I guarantee you, Dr. King is on the sofa many a night. It is not easy, we have our challenges.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows STC President Shirley A Reed and PSJA ISD Superintendent Daniel P. King standing with four PSJA alumni: Elizabeth Ramirez, an emergency room nurse, Krista Cortez, an 8th grade science teacher, Devany Cantu, a high school college adviser, and Rubinia Leal, a UT-Austin graduate student.