Ninth in a Series: A Rising Southside
We continue our series examining the economic, educational and cultural growth on San Antonio’s Southside today with stories from two educational institutions. Links to all stories in this series can be found at the end of this post, including the series opener: “It’s The Decade of Downtown, But Don’t Miss San Antonio’s Rising Southside.
In 1974, Fernando Rodriguez, Jr., introduced a resolution at the Communities Organized for Public Service’s (COPS) first convention to work toward obtaining a place of higher education for the Southside of San Antonio.
It’s been 28 years since the first classes were offered at Palo Alto College, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of this institution for the past 14 years.
As the first college in San Antonio located south of Highway 90, our goal was to provide access for a majority of people who had not previously been exposed to any type of higher education. Since our first classes were offered in Fall 1985, we have provided education for more than 100,000 individuals.
While our overall average student age is about 24 years old, in 2012, Palo Alto College’s youngest student was 15 and the oldest student was 72.
As a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution since 2000, 71% of our students identify as Hispanic or Latino. Often the first in their families to attend college, many Palo Alto College students want to attend classes where they feel at home – where they experience being a part of a community of people striving to succeed in achieving their dream by obtaining their college degree. In Fall 2012, more than 57% of our students came from the southern sector of San Antonio.
With thousands of graduates in our history and an expected 8,600 students enrolled for Fall 2013, we continuously strive to provide education that is accessible to ensure success for our students and their families. We offer more than 120 degree and certificate programs that range in completion from two weeks to two years.
Traditionally, students at Palo Alto College have been prepared and encouraged to transition to a university or to complete workforce training that can help them advance in the workplace. We have continued to foster a strong economy on the Southside by providing valuable and desirable employees and developing relationships with corporate partners that ultimately benefit the entire surrounding community.
As the economic pattern of San Antonio and Bexar County continues to evolve, it is apparent now more than ever how integral Palo Alto College students are to the future workforce of San Antonio. By empowering our students with a hands-on, interactive experience, we prepare them for the high-skill, high-wage jobs required by today’s top employers.
When Toyota began building its automotive assembly plant in 2005, our key location in the Southside became a pivotal part in training 1,500 employees in preparation for the start of production – and the relationship continues today. Our Career & Technical programs, including Industrial Automation, give Palo Alto College students a pipeline from education to career.
The booming Eagle Ford Shale expansion means more demand for trained individuals and billions of dollars in economic activity. At Palo Alto College, we provide customized corporate training to ensure employees meet industry standards and certifications and are up-to-date on the latest developments in the natural gas industry.
As the industry demands continue to increase, Palo Alto College is dedicated to providing more opportunities for students to get focused training in the field.
Exposure to higher education is imperative for students to be college ready. In an effort to expand access to students, Palo Alto College is collaborating with area schools to develop Early College High School programs, where high school students can earn college credits leading up to an associate’s degree by the time they graduate with their high school diploma.
This builds on a successful Alamo Colleges model with the first two initial programs – Travis Early College High School (San Antonio Independent School District) with San Antonio College and Judson Early College Academy (Judson Independent School District) with Northeast Lakeview College. Eighty-two percent of students from both programs graduate with a substantial amount of college hours and many with an associate’s degree.
Beginning in Fall 2014, we will partner with Harlandale Independent School District, the New Frontiers Charter School, and the Henry Ford Academy at the Alameda in providing this unique opportunity for college access in central and south San Antonio, and we continue to be in conversations with many other school districts in the region to expand. The early college model builds on current efforts to work in tandem with our colleagues from Texas A&M University – San Antonio to ensure a seamless educational experience for area students from their first year to graduation.
Ultimately, our goal is to produce educated, prepared individuals who can leave Palo Alto College and be successful in their future education and career paths. Our students have a crucial stake in the San Antonio economic development engine, and we play a vital role in making sure South San Antonio understands how important they are to the future of our community.
Dr. Mike Flores was appointed president of Palo Alto College in September 2012. Dr. Flores joined Palo Alto College in 1999 and has served in a variety of roles, including Director of Institutional Research, Planning, and Development; Dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Community Development; Vice President of College Services; Vice President of Student Affairs; and interim Vice President of Academic Affairs. He currently serves as a Data Coach for Achieving the Dream and has served as a fellow with the American Council on Education and the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities.