MCALLEN, RGV – South Texas College has waived over $200 million in tuition and fees over the past 20 years in order to build a college-going culture in the Rio Grande Valley.

Thanks to STC’s dual credit programs, high school students that might otherwise not have considered a college career can earn college credit hours and/or a college credential such as an associate’s degree.

“When we think of the number of students we have touched with dual credit and the amount of tuition that has been waived, at this point it is totaling over $200 million in tuition and fees that South Texas College has waived for dual credit students, said South Texas College President Shirley A. Reed.

When she made these comments at STC’S 5th annual Board Appreciation Breakfast, held in January, Reed won a big round of applause. Region 1 Education Service Center, school districts  and community partners were in attendance at the event. They helped celebrate the fact that STC has been providing dual credit programs in partnership with school districts in Hidalgo and Starr counties for the past 20 years.

“We know this program can grown, can be stronger, we can provide different services, we know there are some weaknesses that need to be tweaked,” Reed told the audience.

STC had 1,777 dual credit students graduate in May at three different ceremonies. The college collaborates with 24 school districts and 70 high schools across the Valley. The programs are handled by more than 200 college faculty and over 300 dual credit faculty across Hidalgo and Starr counties. 

Since inception of its dual credit programs in 1999, STC has served over 106,300 dual credit students and has awarded over 9,800 certificate and/or associate degrees.

Reed noted that strong partnerships can take a while to develop.

“Partnerships are not always easy. Sometimes there is a lot of tension, there are different strategies. But, when all is said and done we are all in it for the same reason. It is really for the children and the adults we are serving,” Reed said.

“Now, we have a new dean and we are focusing on the importance of dual credit and our partnerships with all school districts. We have adjusted the organizational structure of the college so it is very clear: this a priority for South Texas College.”

National Accreditation of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships

The new dean is Rebecca De Leon. Her full title is dean for dual credit programs and school district partnerships. At the breakfast event, De Leon announced STC is seeking official recognition that its dual credit program has strong academic rigor by securing an accreditation under the National Accreditation of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships.

“We are looking to ensure that the quality remains. I feel that as an institution we are helping students in the Rio Grande Valley through our early college high schools. The students in that demographic are students who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to go forth,” De Leon explained.

“Now, we want to make sure the quality is there, which is why we are seeking the approval of the National Accreditation of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships. As we have been working on the application we have seen that we are meeting all their standards. We want to ensure the quality and rigor of our program is always in place.”

De Leon said STC should know if it has been successful with the accreditation in May 2020.

“Currently, no one in the State of Texas has received this accreditation,” De Leon said. “We have to ensure that we continue to monitor the quality and rigor of instruction that is occurring at the high school sites and that it is the same as that being taught here at the college. Most importantly, as we are hiring our faculty, we have to ensure that we meet the same academic credential requirements as if we were hiring our full-time South Texas College faculty.”

To accompany her remarks at the breakfast event, De Leon gave a powerpoint presentation. One of the slides showed the mission statement of STC’s dual credit program. The mission statement read: South Texas College provides a clear pathway to a better quality of life for high school students in our community through higher education. 

Another slide showed the goals of STC’s dual credit program. They are:

Goal 1: Facilitate completion of a credential or degree

Goal 2: Establish clear educational pathways for student success

Goal 3: Improve preparedness of high school students to be successful in college courses

Goal 4: Collaborate with school districts to provide a college-level learning environment

Goal 5: Expand college-level support structure and services for student success

Goal 6: Foster strong partnerships with school district partners

De Leon noted that STC has the largest dual credit program in Texas. “We have over 106,000 students that have gone forth to participate in our program, tuition free,” she said.

Academic Rigor

De Leon acknowledged that In the past there have been some who have doubted that dual credit courses offer the rigor of a traditional college course. Some of these doubters have been staff at the Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“We are re-evaluating everything that has been in place over the past year and so this is definitely strengthening our program further to see the areas where we might need to strengthen,” De Leon said. “That is something that is key, especially with the faculty, in making sure that the connection and interaction and collegial relationship exists each semester.”

De Leon said the dual credit program is close to her heart because she benefited from it when she was a student.

“It comes close to me because I was a dual credit student. I attended Mission ISD and I participated and received credit from South Texas College and it definitely helped me get where I am today,” De Leon said.

De Leon attended Veterans Memorial High School in Mission and thanks to STC took 17 hours college credit hours while still in high school.

“Those courses were to the same rigor, they prepared me when I transferred to a university, all the way through my master’s and my doctorate. It set a true foundation for me to be successful,” De Leon said.

“I would not be here, but for the dual credit program. I can relate to the students of the Rio Grande Valley. I can see why we need to continue to provide opportunities for them because looking back when I was in high school we were not at the level we are at today.”

De Leon tells of the impact dual credit had on her education at events across the state and the nation. “I can validate that the courses we are offering, the opportunities for the students are definitely changing our area, the Rio Grande Valley, the state and at the national level as well.”

At the breakfast event with high school and community partners, Sonia Falcon, representing DHR Health, questioned how well dual credit courses are aligned with the needs of industry. 

De Leon said she was pleased to receive such feedback, as this was the purpose of the gathering.

“We want to ensure that the courses the students are taking are relevant to the careers they are seeking. Some students do change their major, I am one of those students. Students need to be aware of the courses they are taking. If they want to pursue a STEM path, they need to choose the right courses to take. We know that the academic route may not be for all students. That is why we are looking to strengthen our CTE programs to provide various opportunities for all students in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Asked for a wrap-up remark, De Leon said: “I want to ensure that in the Valley, and especially in our Hidalgo and Starr counties, that parents and students are aware of the wonderful opportunities dual credit programs provide and the impact we have had throughout the college’s past 25 years and the program’s existence throughout the past 20 years.”

De Leon also spoke about the dual credit program at STC’s 14th Annual Summit on College and Career Readiness, which took place at Mission Event Center back in April.

“We are currently assessing our operations and evaluating how we can continue assisting students attending our partnering school districts,” Dr. De Leon said. “We are seeking insight from school districts, workforce and community partners to determine what is the need, and how we can continue moving forward to help our students be successful.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Dr. Rebecca De Leon, dean for dual credit programs and school district partnerships at South Texas College.

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the first in a three-part series on South Texas College. Part Two, featuring the analysis of Mario Reyna, STC’s dean of business, public safety, and technology, will be posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2019.