McALLEN, RGV – A strong partnership between UT-Rio Grande Valley and South Texas College is going to have a profound impact on the region, predicts longtime STC President Shirley Reed.

“When I reflect back I do think South Texas College was transformative to the Valley. We have just changed the educational attainment level, created this college-going culture and with this new partner, with UTRGV, we are going to go to heights that we were never able to go to before. It is going to have a truly profound impact on this region,” Reed told the Guardian.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey recently met with Reed and other top STC administrators at the STC Nursing & Allied Health Campus in McAllen. They discussed ways to expand the pipeline of students graduating from STC and early college high schools and going on to UTRGV. STC officials were blown away by Bailey’s commitment, enthusiasm, ideas, and attention to detail.

“The fit for us is the vision. I mean, right away, President Bailey looked at our student pipeline, the students with an associate’s degree, and put it on the table about scholarships. He looked at the opportunity with BAT (Bachelor in Allied Technology) to bring up us to the research level,” said Wanda Garza, interim vice president of student affairs and enrollment services at STC.

“President Bailey has that vision, he sees the potential. He sees the strength of our students, the academic rigor at our college, he respects that. I have never been so excited. It is the vision. It is so aligned with the vision of our community, with our college. He is definitely going to take us to that next level.”

Bailey discussed the importance of a strong partnership with local community colleges at a recent McAllen Chamber of Commerce event. He said a lot of people do not realize it but graduation rates in Valley high schools are “rising rapidly.” And, he had nothing but praise for the Valley’s 26 early college high schools (there are actually 17 but nine new ones are starting this fall). “Those (early college high schools) are terrific things. You are doing a good job there. Our job is to work with the community college, to work with the school systems in the Valley, to enhance that pipeline. We will have a major effect in that way. We will have a major effect in the range of programs available for students,” Bailey said.

In a question and answer session, Garza pointed out that 17 percent of STC students go on to pursue a master’s degree. She said this was a great platform from which UT-RGV could build, so that a large number of students go on to earn a PhD. Bailey responded by saying that when he was president of Texas Tech, he made it a top priority to recruit from community colleges.

“If you look at students graduating from high school in the State of Texas, more than 60 percent of those students start at community colleges. So we set aside a pretty significant pot of money for students who get their associate degrees, we recruited at community colleges in the same way we did at high schools. We will do the same thing here. We want those students. We want them to have access to scholarships just like kids out of high school do,” Bailey said.

One of the things UT-RGV will look at, Bailey said, is creating a fast track master’s degree program. “If you have a student who graduates from high school with an associate’s degree and comes to your university, first of all you have got a student with a track record right there. Secondly, you have probably got a student who is pretty hard working and ambitious. With those criteria you can often fast-track bachelors and masters degrees and often cut a year off of college in that way.”

The Guardian interviewed STC’s Reed and Garza after Bailey’s speech about their recent meeting with the UT-RGV president. Both were impressed.

“We are so pleased to know that he (Bailey) understands community colleges. He knows these students have a proven track record and when they go to the university they are going to be successful. He has already said that in the admissions criteria they will guarantee admissions for students that have an associate degree. It is just going to enhance and build the pipeline. He truly respects what community colleges do and what we do with early college high schools. He is going to be a fabulous partner. We are going to go to new heights together. I am that confident,” Reed said.

Reed pointed out that last year, STC awarded 4,500 associate degrees. For a region with the socio-economic profile of the Valley, that is considered a lot. “We are very proud of the number of associate degrees we give to students who are still in high school. Last May we had 1,500 earn an associate degree or a certificate and they were still in high school. They are on their way to the university,” Reed said.

Reed pointed out that Bailey has a track record of working with community colleges. “When he was in San Antonio he started the first early college high school in Texas. So, he is a pioneer in that and that is why tonight he mentioned that we are going to have 26 early college high schools, with nine of these starting in the fall. Within four years those early college high schools are going to have over 10,000 students and those students are going to graduate with associate degrees, they are going to go to the university, they are going to go to graduate school, medical school. It is going to transform the region.”

It was put to Reed that this will be a huge pipeline of talent for the Valley. She agreed, saying: “It is not just an open pipeline. It is going to be a pipeline of very well prepared students, focused on going to the university, getting a bachelor’s degree and getting a master’s. They are there on merit and they are going to leave us debt free. So, when they decide to go to graduate school or to get a PhD, if they want to incur debt, incur debt for those programs, do not saddle yourself with debt at the community college level.”

Garza said Bailey met with several STC students who are training to be doctors, those that have gone through the community college’s dual enrollment program. “We have got 13,000 students in dual enrollment. Think about it, in the state of Texas who is in a region that has a pipeline that is graduating students with an associate’s degree? He has got a goldmine here and he knows it,” Garza said.

Garza added that STC challenged Bailey to help develop the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Park. “A diamond in the rough we have is our college of engineering. This is important for companies relocating here. There is a big opportunity for our research park to be part of our overall strategy in the area of advanced manufacturing and being a world leader.”