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BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Texas Southmost College Interim President Mike Shannon believes higher education institutions in the Rio Grande Valley will start to specialize more, rather than offer a full array of educational programs.

Shannon shared his vision following an articulation agreement ceremony at TSC’s Arts Center. At the event, he and South Texas College President Shirley A. Reed signed documents aimed at closing the educational gap in the Rio Grande Valley. The agreement provides an accessible and affordable pathway to a four-year degree for TSC students.

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian after the ceremony, Shannon was asked about comments Reed made in her remarks from the podium. Reed said community colleges offering four-year baccalaureate degrees are going to become the norm.

Mike Shannon

Asked if he agreed with Reed’s analysis, Shannon said: “I think it is absolutely correct. As we see more and more students enrolled in early college high schools and dual enrollment programs we are going to see a readjustment of community colleges, where the focus is more and more towards workforce training, continuing education, career and technical training programs, and those kinds of efforts.”

Shannon said TSC has a great working relationship with other higher education institutions in the Valley.

“Each school has a specialization in a particular area. I think that will happen more, where one school does not have to meet the needs of every student but you can start at one school and matriculate to another school that will meet your need. That is what we are building in the Valley,” Shannon said.

For that to happen, aren’t Valley students going to need a good transportation network, Shannon was asked.

“They are. We have a bus service and we work closely with the bus service to make sure that transportation is available at both South Texas College and here, to make sure that wherever you are in the Valley there is a way to get where you need to be on a bus.”

Originally established in 1926, Texas Southmost College currently offers the first two years toward a bachelor’s degree, along with career and technical education leading to certificates and associate degrees, college preparatory studies to prepare students for college-level work, workforce training, and continuing education. Recently selected as a Bright Spot by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, TSC offers over 50 programs of study leading to an associate degree or certificate.

The articulation agreement signed by Shannon and Reed will facilitate the transfer of students from TSC’s Associate of Applied Science degree programs to STC bachelor’s degree programs. All TSC courses completed in the Associate of Applied Science degree program will be transferable to STC and will satisfy the course requirements leading to the first two years of course work in the four applied baccalaureate degree programs currently offered by STC in Organizational Leadership, Technology Management, Medical and Health Service Management and Computer Information Technologies.

Asked about the articulation agreement ceremony, Shannon said: “It is a wonderful event and I am looking forward to more of these opportunities with the other schools in the area as we continue to grow as a college and as we continue to do what we need to do to serve the workforce needs of the region. Our goal is to transform the Valley.”

Asked how historic the articulation agreement is, Shannon said: “It demonstrates to the Valley how the schools are working together to create more educational opportunities for our students and a better trained workforce for our employers. We have been working closely with South Texas College since we re-opened our doors. They have been a great resource for us. They have been very friendly, kind of like our big sister in the Upper Valley. This just demonstrates to the public how well we are working together and how we are going to continue our relationship.”

Shannon said there are 16 programs currently offered by TSC that dovetail the four baccalaureate degree programs STC administers. Asked how students can find out more information, Shannon said:

“Either call our campus or stop by our Oliveira Student Services Center. There is a welcome desk when they come in. They can talk to someone there about taking a program that allows them to go to South Texas College for their bachelor’s degree. They will be helped once they come in. That is all they have to do. I tell families, I tell students, all you have to do is walk in the door. We’ll take it from there. Once you are enrolled, go to class every day, do your homework and you will graduate. That is all I ask, come on in if you are interested and we will help you from that point forward.”

Senate Bill 2118

Senate Bill 2118, authored by state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, allows all community colleges in Texas to apply to offer four-year baccalaureate degrees. STC is a pioneer in the field, having been given permission to offer such programs 12 years ago. TSC Board of Trustees Chair Adela G. Garza said her college plans to make the most of the legislation but that it will take a little time.

“We are elated to be here today with South Texas College. We have signed this Articulation Agreement so our students can have a seamless transfer into South Texas College and get a four-year degree. Hopefully, they will do the first two years here and then transfer to STC,” Garza said.

Adela G. Garza

Asked if TSC would be offering four-year degrees in the near future, Garza said: “We are building this college from the ground up. I think good things are happening so keep an eye on us. We are increasing enrollments and signing MOUs. We are doing all we can to make this a viable community college. Keep in mind, we have lots of hurdles to jump before we can offer a four-year degree. The Higher Education Coordinating Board has to approve our programs, SAC has to approve it. So, we have a way to go. But, STC is doing it so we can piggy back with them.”

SAC stands for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Asked to describe TSC’s future, Garza said: “Bright and it is looking better and better every day.”

Interim President Shannon described SB 2118 as “breakthrough legislation.” He said TSC is now exploring options to offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing, applied science and technology. “The partnership and the ability for TSC to offer bachelor’s degrees in the future will give TSC students the opportunity to earn a four-year degree at an affordable cost, and help us to close the educational gap in the Valley,” he said.

Shannon worked at STC when it was granted permission by the Legislature to offer up to five baccalaureate degrees.

“When I was at South Texas College, when they first began offering bachelor’s degrees, we saw a tremendous amount of interest in those programs. I believe we will see that here at TSC as well,” he said.

“Offering a bachelor’s degree at a community college offers students the chance to matriculate faster through the program and, of course, save money as compared to university. So, what we saw at South Texas College and what we believe we will see here now is that, we will not be taking students from the universities but more students will begin to enroll because they will understand they can get a bachelor’s degree in an area that maybe is not offered by a university and it will be less expensive.”

Tamaulipas Connection

TSC recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the State of Tamaulipas. Asked how that agreement was developing, Shannon said:

“That is a wonderful, wonderful, agreement we have with the State of Tamaulipas. It gives us the opportunity to provide training to individuals in Tamaulipas but also provides an opportunity for faculty and staff and students to travel back and forth at each institution. I think what we can learn from each other is going to be amazing and what I have said since I came down here is we are a community college but our community does not stop at the border. Our community continues across the border and so I think we have a responsibility to the citizens across the border from us to provide educational opportunities as well. So, this exchange of ideas and this dialogue that is going to happen is going to do nothing but move our region forward.”

Presidential Search

Shannon is aware that he is only running TSC on an interim basis. The college announced last week that a national search for a new president has been narrowed down to four final candidates. Each finalist will participate in an open forum at the TSC Arts Center that students, faculty, staff and the community are invited to attend.

The national search yielded 30 applications that were narrowed down to 12 top candidates by TSC presidential search consultant Dr. Byron McClenney. A committee comprised of three trustees, two college employees and two community members further reduced the selection pool to eight semifinalists. The committee conducted interviews with all eight semifinalists and narrowed the pool to four finalists.

Each candidate will spend one day at the TSC main campus to participate in the open forums and to be interviewed by the TSC Board of Trustees.

The finalists are listed below in order of their forum date and time:

  • July 12, 2017 at 10 a.m.: Dr. Hector Aguilar
  • July 12, 2017 at 3 p.m.: Dr. Kenneth P. Gonzalez
  • July 13, 2017 at 10 a.m.: Dr. Jesus Roberto Rodriguez
  • July 13, 2017 at 3 p.m.: Dr. David E. Pearson

Editor’s Note: The above story is the first in a two-part series on the Texas Southmost College-South Texas College collaboration. Click here to read Part Two.