The Alamo Colleges has received a $15 million, five-year federal grant to prepare 800 low-income students for in-demand jobs at 32 different local healthcare companies. The federal funds come via a Health Profession Opportunity Grant (HPOG) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Family Assistance.

“Together all of us can do a whole lot more,” Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie said at a Tuesday morning press conference. “The federal government knew they could count on this community, Alamo Colleges and our partners, to make this work.” Those partners represent businesses and low-income families.

The grant is one of only five HPOGs awarded at the maximum funding level. It’s the second HPOG award Alamo Colleges has received. A $6 million, five-year grant awarded in 2010 provided health occupation training to more than 450 participants, with an 80% completion rate and 380 participants subsequently employed in healthcare jobs.

Bruce Leslie, chancellor or Alamo Colleges announces the Heath Professions Opportunity Grant. Photo by Bekah McNeel.
Bruce Leslie, chancellor or Alamo Colleges announces the Heath Professions Opportunity Grant. Photo by Bekah McNeel.

The fast-growing bioscience and healthcare industry was estimated to be worth $30 billion annually to the metro area, according to a 2013 study by Trinity University professors, with more than 170,000 people now employed in the sector. Wages are among the highest of any industry in the city, but a lack of trained workers has left too many jobs unfilled.

Alamo Colleges is partnering with the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA), Goodwill Industries of San Antonio, Project QUEST, Workforce Solutions Alamo, Family Service Association and a network of more than 30 employers, including Christus Santa Rosa Health System, Methodist Healthcare, Southwest General Hospital, University Health System and Franklin Park Senior Living.

Representatives from these partners gathered with elected leaders at the press conference to celebrate the mutual meeting of needs.

In a letter from U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, the congressman referred to Alamo Colleges as “a shining example” of collaboration that would benefit not only the workers who would receive trainings and access to living wage jobs, but the businesses who desperately need qualified healthcare workers.

Training will be available for those seeking licensure as LVNs, certified nurse’s aides, patient care technicians, medical assistants, phlebotomists, pharmacy technicians and medical front office workers. From there, many will see pathways continue to expand.

Carolyn King, director of policy operations and special programs for Methodist Healthcare Systems, explained that during students’ final externships with her organization, they will actually become employees of Methodist Healthcare Systems, creating a seamless transition to the paid workforce. Students who desire to obtain their RN license will also have access to scholarships through Methodist.

Former student Karla Silva explained how, as she participated in the first HPOG program, the Alamo Colleges staff helped her find needed flexibility when her husband lost his job. They continued to assist her as she pursued her goals, and now she is working toward her Bachelor’s degree in nursing from Texas Lutheran University.

Much of the flexibility is made possible by locating the program within the communities of least opportunity. Training will be provided at the Alamo Colleges’ Westside Education and Training Center, the Alamo University Center and at locations in the federally designated Promise Zone. These areas are typically not only low-income, but low-opportunity, as transportation hurdles and communication barriers separate residents from resources. The partnership with SAHA allows HPOG to go into these communities and eliminate substantial barriers.

David Nisivoccia, interim president and CEO of SAHA, reported that most of his clients make around $13,000 per year. Access to a living wage and potential for growth is their only pathway out of poverty. Others celebrated the same empowering potential of the program.

“So many times we talk about teaching a man to fish instead of handing him a fish. This is it,” said Sen. José Menéndez.

State Sen. Jose Menendez celebrates Alamo Colleges $15 million grant to train low income workers for healthcare professions. Photo by Bekah McNeel.
State Sen. Jose Menendez celebrates Alamo Colleges $15 million grant to train low income workers for healthcare professions. Photo by Bekah McNeel.

Former student Nathaniel Smith is one such changed life. Before participating in the first HPOG, Smith was living paycheck to paycheck, barely surviving.

“I felt like I was eating out of a trashcan,” he said.

Now, Smith loves his job. He loves taking care of people physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and the passion has given him a sense of purpose that extends beyond the workday.

Federico Zaragoza, vice chancellor of Alamo Colleges, looks forward to seeing 800 new Smiths and Silvas come through the program and begin their path to success.

Top image: Alamo Colleges receives a $15 million Health Profession Opportunity Grant. Photo courtesy of Alamo Colleges.

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog,, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.