MCALLEN, RGV – South Texas College has waived $180 million in tuition fees since it started working with local school districts on dual credit programs, its president has announced.

Dr. Shirley A. Reed spoke glowingly in support of dual enrollment, early college high schools and other collaborations with school districts in the Rio Grande Valley at PSJA’s 4th Annual College for All Conference on Tuesday.

“We are on the cutting edge of innovations. We are doing things that other states are kind of drooling about and asking, is it possible for us to do it too,” Reed said, to an audience of mostly visiting educators. The conference had drawn school districts from Rhode Island, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma, Colorado, California, Hawaii and Texas.

“And I am here to attest all of you can do what is being done right here in the Rio Grande Valley. You all could do what PSJA is doing and you all need a partner in your community or in your state like South Texas College.”

Reed said the vision PSJA Superintendent Daniel P. King had shown in scaling early college high school concept could not have been achieved without a higher education partner like STC.

“Dr. King and I are really joined at the hip. It is like a marriage, we have good times and we have tense times and I even jokingly say, Dr. King, you are on the couch for the next two days,” Reed said.

“I am telling you, it is challenging. You cannot do this work alone. You have to find a Higher Ed partner. Dr. King and I are very fortunate that we were at the same place at the right time, we shared the vision, we shared the commitment and we have done incredible work.”

Reed asked a rhetorical question and then answered it.

“From the perspective of South Texas College, why was this so important to us? We made the critical decision 13 maybe more years ago that the only way we were going to create a college going culture in this region would be by developing dual credit programs, whether they be early college high schools, traditional dual credit, or even our highly acclaimed academies for gifted and talented students.”

Back then, Reed said, the Valley had approximately 40 percent of its high school graduates going to college. Now, she said proudly, the rate is well over 60 percent.

“And I give dual credit credit for this happening. PSJA is our largest partner but I have to tell you we work with 22 other school districts and one of the real secrets to making this work is – and those of you from other states, you are going to tell me I am crazy, but we have done it – we have developed a mechanism whereby we do not have to charge for dual credit.”

Reed acknowledged that nothing in life is free. “We cannot say it is free but because of the partnership (with school districts), the college is able to waive tuition.”

Reed said participants at the conference would learn so much. She said STC had a number of experts at the event.

“They are ready to answer your questions. But, part of the secret about the success is this is at no cost to families. And if we tally up the amount of tuition, and we have waived since the start of this program, it is $180 million,” Reed said.

“And, we have served I believe it is over 90,000 students. That is quite an accomplishment. That is testimony that this work can be done, you can be successful and it is transformative in your school district, in your community, and ultimately, your state.”

Reed asked those in the audience if they had any naysayers in their community. She said STC did. She ran through some of the claims made by critics of dual credit.

“They are just not ready for college, their front lobe is not fully developed, they do not know what they want to do, you are going to water down the academic rigor of the college course. Well, that is a bunch of BS,” Reed said to a round of applause.

“None of that is true. These kids are bright, they are capable, they are dedicated, they are just not sure what they want to do. And in many cases, they simply lack the confidence to take a college course. By giving them that confidence, demonstrating the ability to succeed they go on and do incredible things.”

Before Reed spoke at the conference, attendees saw a video showing the accomplishments of PSJA students.

“You saw some of the testimony. We have thousands and thousands of (success) stories. And we have data that documents dual credit students out-perform students who go to college without any prior dual credit,” Reed said.

“More of them graduate, earn a bachelor’s degree, they have a higher grade-point average, they persist. There is no way to lose in this endeavor. It takes hard, hard work. It takes resources and there will be a lot of bumps in the road but if you can get a dedicated Higher Ed partner you can do what we have done in the Valley. And you can replicate what PSJA has done.”

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a five-part series of stories on PSJA ISD’s 4th Annual College for All Conference. Click here to read Part One. Part Three will be published later this week.