Alamo Colleges Developing Free Tuition Program for All Bexar County HS Grads

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The San Antonio College campus.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The San Antonio College campus.

Alamo Colleges and city, county, and business leaders are laying plans for a program that would provide free community college tuition to all seniors graduating from Bexar County high schools.

The program would be a game-changer in boosting education attainment, creating a more attractive workforce for San Antonio, and fighting generational poverty, Alamo Colleges Chancellor Mike Flores said. As many as 16,000 graduating seniors from about 45 high schools eventually could be eligible.

Flores said the potential cost of the program has not been determined yet but estimated it could range from $2 million in the first year to $15 million when the program is operating at full capacity. Flores has not publicly identified funding sources; those involved in the planning process speculated both public funds and private philanthropy could be involved.

“It tells [students] once you graduate from high school, your community will support you for your first two years of a college education,” Flores said. “You’ll be 50 percent of the way [to a four-year degree.]”

Only about 26 percent of San Antonio residents have a bachelor’s or advanced degree, according to 2017 census data. The median earnings for a San Antonio resident over age 25 with a high school diploma only is just under $26,000. For residents with some college or an associate’s degree, the median income jumps to nearly $32,000, and for those with a bachelor’s degree, it rises to almost $50,000.

“We hear a lot in the media or in talking to others that college is increasingly unaffordable,” Flores said. “What we’re doing is really changing the mindset to say as a community we want to invest in students and this will be affordable and we’re going to underwrite this cost.”

The program, which is being called Alamo Promise, would be styled after similar programs in the country, including Dallas County Promise. Started in fall 2017, Dallas County Promise will cover the tuition for graduates from 43 high schools in 2019. It is considered a last-dollar scholarship, which means the program pays any tuition costs not covered by federal or other financial aid. Participants must apply for financial aid.

Mike Flores will take over as Alamo Colleges chancellor on Oct. 1.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Alamo Colleges Chancellor Mike Flores

Flores noted that sometimes students don’t bother applying for financial aid because they don’t believe that aid would cover enough tuition to make college affordable. If students know early on in high school that they will have a guaranteed way to pay for college, more students might graduate from high school.

Southwest Independent School District Superintendent Lloyd Verstuyft said Alamo Promise’s message has the potential to make a significant impact in how many students complete financial aid applications.

Verstuyft was one of several local representatives who made a trip to Dallas in mid-December to learn more about Dallas County Promise. He was impressed by the partnerships he saw between school districts and the community college system.

“We often have dialogue about finances being a barrier, but rarely do we come up with opportunities to remove that,” Verstuyft said. “In my opinion, this is one of the greatest opportunities, or potential programs, that I have seen in my 30 years of education that really removes that barrier for our youth.”

The Dallas program, which has received financial support from the Dallas County Community College Foundation and the private sector, matches all participating students with a coach who serves as a mentor from the end of their senior year of high school through graduation from the community college. Tuition is covered for up to three years or upon the completion of an associate’s degree.

In its first year of operation, Dallas County’s program saw a 40 percent increase in enrollment in the Dallas County Community College District from 31 participating high schools and a 30 percent increase in enrollment at University of North Texas-Dallas.

Alamo Promise is still in the early planning stages, and Flores said he was not sure when the program would launch. The planning process will continue over the next year and include conversations with business leaders, nonprofits, and government officials.

He said it is important get a plan in place within the “next year or so,” while also working to ensure the program is financial and operationally sustainable. When asked if the program could be started in time to benefit any students currently enrolled in high school, Flores said yes.

In mid-December, Alamo Colleges representatives began meeting with Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s office and SA Works, an organization that connects education interests and employers to promote economic mobility. The group will continue meeting regularly, Flores said, to figure out how best to use existing programs like the San Antonio Education Partnership and Café College to support Alamo Promise’s main goals.

Calling the potential program “catalytic” and “truly transformational,” Nirenberg told the Rivard Report discussions about Alamo Promise are just getting started. While he wouldn’t say whether public dollars could be used to fund Alamo Promise, Nirenberg conceded “any dollar spent toward [increasing access to educational opportunities] would be the best dollar the city could ever spend as a community.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he believes Alamo Promise could be a “great program,” but there are still many details to flesh out. He indicated the County may be willing to provide some financial support when there is more information available on the structure of the program.

The important part, Wolff said, is to get money into the hands of students interested in pursuing a higher education.

SA Works Executive Director Romanita Matta-Barrera emphasized that working with participating school districts would be crucial to ensuring the success of the program.

Texas Education Agency data shows most Bexar County school districts fail to prepare even half their students for college.

“We need our school districts to look at how they can maximize the opportunity for youth that will no longer be in their schools but are going off to get a college degree,” Matta-Barrera said. “They need to be well-prepared to be successful. It would be a shame if we removed the financial barrier and a barrier to academic success was still there.”


27 thoughts on “Alamo Colleges Developing Free Tuition Program for All Bexar County HS Grads

  1. What other conditions apply for the program besides being a high school graduate of one of the 45 high schools? Could past high school graduates take advantage of the program?

  2. Always about funding… Private and public dollars ( fed/state and maybe little local) to assist young adults make education an attainable goal. Those that are So Inclined and have attributes to be successful! Hope technical/vocational skills are part of this program… tie this to HS minimum requirement degree path. Not all people are capable of attending /completing Higher Education.

  3. Beware. Sounds too good to be true. The funding sources are vague (purposefully so?) and one wonders if students will be directed along narrow paths of specific spheres of education in order to benefit for this program (“workforce” mentioned as an assumed positive is a red flag here.)

    I also wonder why the educational hierarchy do its job by aggressively fighting to get the monies from the state – where this money should come from. Private funding entities with specific interests are always a big concern when considering the freedom students should have in pursuing their OWN interests, and not that of “workforce” partners. Then students may actually have the internal motivation to finish their degrees.
    As for “generational poverty,” that will end when we end generational wealth! here it is being used as a liberal selling point for what is being developed.

  4. Have always thought too much interest on pushing students to become lawyers and doctors, etc., when (l) they may not be the A/B students required to get into these fields, or even if they are (2) their interests are more in line with the trades, such as those taught in the State Technical School at Waco. Plumbers, electricians, computer technicians and specialists, (I read in news there is a dire shortage of this field) carpentry, exotic car repair, etc. provide very decent incomes. Monies should be available for this type of education.

  5. So you have to read to the seventh paragraph to learn that the program will be modeled after Dallas County Promise, “a last-dollar scholarship which means the program pays any tuition costs not covered by federal or other financial aid.” It seems that “Alamo Colleges Developing a Last-Dollar Scholarship Program for All Bexar County HS Grads” would be a more honest headline.

  6. If they really want it to be available for nearly everyone for “free”. Take the degrees online. Create lab type projects where students meet in person a handfull times during the semester but mainly work over email, video chat or conference call. Its more possible now in 2019 than ever. And will save tax payers a lit of money.

  7. “Free Tuition” sounds great until I read ” public funds… could be involved.” My father used to tell me, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

    I have no problem paying property taxes that go toward local independent school districts. I feel that I am paying back into the system that benefited me.

    But the student who didn’t graduate from high school, the young people who enter the vocational fields, and the academically challenged employee should not have to pay taxes to benefit the Alamo College student.

    My dad had another axiom: “You get what you pay for.” In other words, a thing that can be bought for a very low price probably isn’t very good. The other side of this principle is you should pay for what you get. Unless a benefactor wants to donate money, one should not expect another to pay for their car, their house, or their college education.

    If the educated segment of our population wish to pay the tuition for all Bexar County HS grads, we should have a special tax on employees with academic degrees. It’s not fair to the dish-washer, the tree-trimmer, or the mechanic to pay for another kids’ college education.

    • Who is footing the bill for this crap??? My property taxes are high enough with all the damn money going to the school districts that can’t even graduate 75% of their seniors… ridiculous!! If you want to go to college bag enough you will find a way to do it. Something that is given away for free or low investment from the person will probably not be appreciated as much as something they had to work for. I worked 2 jobs and went to college FULL TIME to pay for it! Let these kids do the same!

  8. Another major tax increase coming for homeowners. We are all ready taxed to the hilt. California liberal crap coming to San Antonio. When college is “free” for all it will mean nothing.

  9. I’m completely for this, but people (including reporters) need to stop calling this “free”. Call it what it is – socialized or tax payer funded so people understand it is not giving people something for nothing because all of our tax dollars contribute.

  10. The average cost of SAC, if you live at home is $4,200. Divided by 10 months, is $420/month.

    If you live at home, have no debt, drive a paid-for car, and work a full-time job waiting tables or doing anything for $10/hour, $400/week, $1,600/month, the SAC costs you one weeks’ worth of wages per month.

    This is easily payable by the student and/or their parents. Plus, currently the “non-graduation rate” of college kids is over 30%.

    But if they are paying for their education themselves, the rate jumps up significantly.

    As someone said earlier, you get what you pay for.

    All you need is for SAC to partner with the local high schools and provide a number of educational workshops to help families plan, budget, and prepare for their kids’ junior college plan.

    If they start planning their sophomore year, then they can save money in advance, and make sure to pay cash for a reliable, yet inexpensive car.

    Starbucks, $100/month for cell phones, IPAD’s, eating out, and entertainment are the budget-busters for kids.

    Get them to plan, focus, and budget for a long-term goal, and then having them achieve it will serve them well their entire life.–aid/paying-for-college/tuition-and-fees/cost-of-attendance/

  11. Great job Dr. Flores!!!
    Someone needs to let the SAISD board that the current superintendent is not very friendly to ACCD. I am a former principal and have been in those meetings.

  12. Free is not always appreciated. There needs to be rules and standards to maintain the scholarship. Also needs to be focused in a specific path or specialty that is in demand or needed in the community. Otherwise it just seems like a populist program to promote votes.

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