McALLEN, RGV – When South Texas College leaders first met UT-Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey they were immediately struck by his understanding of and respect for the role community colleges play in society.

Following a meeting with Bailey at the STC Nursing & Allied Health Campus in McAllen last August, STC President Shirley Reed told the Rio Grande Guardian that having met the new president she was confident she would be able to work with him to establish a solid and lasting pipeline for students wishing to transfer from STC to UTRGV.

Dr. Shirley Reed
Dr. Shirley Reed

“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,” Reed said. “He (Bailey) 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.”

Wanda Garza, interim vice president of student affairs and enrollment services at STC, agreed.

“Right away, President Bailey looked at our student pipeline, the students with an associate’s degree, and put it on the table about scholarships. 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.”

Dr. Guy Bailey
Dr. Guy Bailey

The confidence Reed and Garza had that UTRGV and STC could work well together appears justified after the two institutions signed a memorandum of understanding on Monday. Under the agreement, students who earn their associate degree at South Texas College will have a guaranteed admission to UTRGV, Reed said, in an interview after the MOU was signed. She described the MOU as an umbrella agreement and an historic first step towards building a strong partnership between STC and UTRGV. The aim, she said, is to facilitate student success by creating a set of guidelines for students and their advisors to understand how courses will transfer between STC and UTRGV.

“Having a seamless transfer from the community college to the university is really critical to students and their families. We don’t want students to waste time or money by taking unnecessary courses. It really is a testimony to the confidence UTRGV has in South Texas College and vice versa,” Reed told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“All the research indicates that if you spend two years at a community college, when you transfer you will actually outperform students who began as freshmen on the university campus – a little less partying, a little discipline, a little more family guidance. So, after two years they transfer and they do incredibly well.”

Historically, STC’s strongest transfer institution was UT-Pan American. In the fall of 2014, 67 percent of UTPA’s undergraduates transferred from STC. This year, 5,500 STC students were awarded associate degrees. Under the MOU all will be guaranteed a place at UTRGV if they want it.

“We appreciate the work done at South Texas College,” said Bailey, at the MOU signing ceremony. “We have our eye on the big picture and are in this for the long run. Ten years from now, we will have close to 40,000 students and so will you [STC]. If you think about it, that is 80,000 students in the Rio Grande Valley with access to higher education opportunities. Think about that as transforming the whole area.”

In her interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Reed said it is vital the education community across the Valley work together.

“It is important that this entire region works collaboratively and the fact that we have all agreed to sign this memorandum of understanding is really a testimony to the willingness and the confidence we have. But, let me be clear, this is just the beginning. This is an umbrella agreement that outlines the general guidelines and what we have to do now is to develop a 2+2 articulation agreement for every program offered by UTRGV,” Reed said.

“For example, you want to major in education, if you earn your associate degree with South Texas College, which courses are going to transfer, are there gaps, are there duplications, those are things we want to streamline for the benefit of students. That is not easy when you pull together university faculty, community college faculty, they are going to have to take a fresh look at the degree plans for both programs, come to consensus and sign an agreement, commit to it, and stick with it.”

Reed said the MOU is important because it will allow STC and UTRGV eliminate duplication. “It is tough for families to afford the tuition. Students do not have time to waste on duplicating a course. We are under the same quality standards so that should not be an issue. We have confidence in the academic quality of both institutions. We just have to make sure our degree plans are in sync and we have consensus,” Reed said. “We are very excited. We are building upon the great relationship we had with UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville and we are now taking things to a new level with UTRGV.”

Dr. Havidán Rodríguez
Dr. Havidán Rodríguez

The Rio Grande Guardian also interviewed UTRGV Provost Havidán Rodríguez. Asked why the MOU matters, Rodriguez said: “It is incredibly important because it strengthens the partnerships and collaborations between South Texas College and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. More importantly it assures the success of our students. So students who complete their degree requirements at STC will be able to transfer over to the corresponding degree programs at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and complete those degrees once the academic program articulation agreements are in place. It assures the student that they can transfer over to UTRGV, that their credits at STC will transfer over and that it will be a seamless process for the students. It is all about ensuring the success of our students and ensuring a seamless transition from STC to UTRGV.”

Like Reed, Rodriguez said the MOU builds upon previous agreements between STC and UTPA and UT-Brownsville. “We are very enthusiastic that we were able today to sign this MOU with STC. It builds on the strong foundations that we have developed throughout the years with STC both as UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American. It also solidifies it to a new agreement with the UT-Rio Grande Valley.”

Gary Gurwitz
Gary Gurwitz

In a news release, STC said that with regard to transfer admissions, the MOU states that students who have successfully completed 24 semester credit hours and have a 2.0 grade-point average, or who have earned an academic associate degree (AA, AS, or AAT), will be automatically accepted to UTRGV upon completion of the Apply Texas application and receipt of their official STC transcript(s) by UTRGV. The release said students are strongly encouraged to complete their associate degree at STC. In addition, the release said, the MOU includes transfer guidelines regarding Texas Core Completion, Texas Academic Course Guide, Catalog Date Determining Graduation Requirements, Continued Work on Articulation and Reverse Transfer.

Founding STC Trustee Gary Gurwitz was at the MOU signing ceremony. “We are not competitors with UTRGV,” said Gurwitz. “The relationship is synergistic. It’s very exciting to have someone of Dr. Bailey’s stature who understands our relationship and is looking forward to it as much as we do. It’s a great moment for the Valley.”

STC Trustee Graciela Farias said: “Our primary responsibility, in addition to student success, is to remove obstacles to make this seamless transition agreement possible. Those that are working on this agreement should not ask, ‘How are we going to get this done?’” The question that should be asked is, ‘How can we afford not to?’”