McALLEN, RGV – South Texas College President Shirley A. Reed says STC is encountering fresh challenges as it expands its robust dual enrollment programs with Rio Grande Valley school districts.

However, Reed says those challenges will not deter her or her staff or the STC board of trustees from putting every effort into a program that she believes is transforming the region.

“We are on the cusp of identifying some very new challenges that we never imagined would come our way with dual enrollment. We are committed to making this work,” Reed said, when helping to give the opening remarks at PSJA ISD’s 2nd Annual College for All Conference.

Reed said she and Dr. Daniel P. King, superintendent of PSJA, often joke with each about how closely intertwined the two education institutions have become. “He frequently jokes and says, am I running a community college? And I turn around and say, well darn, I feel like I am running your school district. We are that close. We are sharing so many students. We are sharing faculty, we are launching many new partnerships.”

Hundreds of educators and school administrators from across the country came to the McAllen Convention Center to hear the successes PSJA has achieved with STC through its college for all approach and to learn about the challenges the two institutions have faced implementing it.

Reed said if anyone in the audience was wondering if dual enrollment is the right way to go, she offered these points: “I believe it is the most effective strategy to transform our community, get people out of poverty; get them into good paying jobs so this country can compete. I have seen no other strategy that has produced the results early college high schools, middle college academies, dual enrollment programs, dropout recovery programs, have initiated.”

Reed said she believes the dual enrollment program PSJA and STC created has become a national model.

“I share with you, this is not for the faint of heart. This is very hard work and there are days when I say to my staff, are we brilliant or are we crazy? I don’t know which it is on a given day,” Reed said. She went on to explain that when the dual enrollment program started PSJA and STC had nothing to base it on. “We started with nothing. We had no funding stream. We didn’t have appropriate policies in place in our state. Nobody else was doing it.”

Then there were the naysayers, both inside and outside the college.  “We had the naysayers (saying), ‘Oh my God, high school students can’t possibly do college work and if they can what academic quality is there?’ We had the naysayers,” Reed said.

Reed said the naysayers have been proved wrong.

“Today we have made it very clear that dual enrollment and early college high school are actually college-level courses taught by very well-prepared masters’ degree faculty, whether employed by the school district or employed by the college. They are among the top teaching professionals. Same course, same syllabi, same outcomes expected, our faculty are evaluated. They are going to ensure the academic rigor or all our dual enrollment programs and Dr. King and PSJA are equally committed. If we are going to do this, it has to be done with quality and we have to be accountable for the performance of our students.”

Reed said that when she talks to others interested in starting a dual enrollment program she often gets superintendents telling her a community college president is not interested or a community college president saying the superintendents will not help.

“You are going to have to find a way to bridge those barriers. It is not easy, it is very challenging work. But unless you find a way to build the partnership… it is tougher than a marriage and I have had a couple of them. It is tough. A lot of give and take. A lot of stand downs. A lot of, ‘I guess I have to go along to get along.’ But, at the end of the day it is about transforming the life of our students. At South Texas College we say, if we change the life of one student, we have transformed that family. And I know we have transformed the next generation.”

Editor’s Note: In the main image accompanying this story, South Texas College President Shirley A. Reed is pictured being interviewed at PSJA ISD’s 2nd Annual College for All Conference, held at the McAllen Convention Center on November 5th and 6th, 2015.