In the 10 days following the launch of a free community college tuition program at Alamo Colleges, more than 1,600 Bexar County high school students signed up. As of Nov. 30, close to 6,000 students indicated interest in the program.

Alamo Promise, a last-dollar scholarship, will cover expenses not already covered by scholarships or grants for students graduating from Bexar County high schools. The free tuition plan will finance up to 60 credit hours for eligible students.

This fall, Alamo Colleges officials rolled out the program at 25 local high schools, chosen based on the schools’ concentration of economically disadvantaged students and the nearby communities’ low rates of college attendance. The program will expand to an additional 20 high schools next year.

At a Tuesday night Alamo Colleges board meeting, college officials updated the board on progress since the program’s rollout.

By the Dec. 1, 5,785 students signed up to “save their seat” in the program. There are 9,952 students eligible for the program and Alamo Colleges aims to enroll 3,036 in Alamo Promise next fall.

“We feel pretty confident about that goal knowing that we are almost at 6,000 students who have saved their seats,” Alamo Colleges spokeswoman Kristi Wyatt said.

Alamo Promise’s chief program officer Stephanie Vasquez estimated about 500 more students would sign up in the next month.

Trustee Joe Alderete Jr. encouraged Alamo Colleges staff to aim higher in enrollment goals. Citing the goal of enrolling 3,036 eligible seniors next fall, he said Alamo Promise “need[s] to keep pressing harder.”

“I want to applaud you for all the work that you have done, I just think there is more out there for us,” Alderete said.

East Central High School had the most students sign up in the months following the program’s launch, with 631 students indicating interest. Other schools with large numbers of students signed up include John Jay High School and Holmes High School in Northside ISD, Judson High School and Wagner High School in Judson ISD, and Southwest High School in Southwest ISD.

The schools with the lowest participation are all in San Antonio ISD and include Young Women’s Leadership Academy, which had two students sign up; Sam Houston High School with 26 students signed up; and Fox Tech High School with 43 students signed up.

Not all students who sign up must ultimately attend Alamo Colleges. The preferred deadline to sign up was Dec. 1, but the final deadline is set for Feb. 14.

During Alamo Promise’s first five years, Alamo Colleges officials expect more than 19,000 new students to enroll in the community college system because of the program, boosting enrollment at participating high schools by 25 percent.

Alamo Colleges officials also updated the board Tuesday night on the program’s funding.

This summer, community college leaders estimated the program will need $122.5 million to operate during its first five years. More than $88 million would be covered by federal financial aid. Local funding sources would pick up about $22.5 million, according to a July budget presentation from the community college system.

As of Dec. 10, private donors have contributed close to $2.3 million. That adds to the $300,000 contributed by both the City of San Antonio and Bexar County. City staff are looking into future funding sources for Alamo Promise.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the Rivard Report.