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Early college programs save $71M in South Texas

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South Texas College in McAllen is being recognized as a national model for early college and dual enrollment programs serving low-income and first-generation college students.

Hundreds of students have graduated from high school with up to an associate's degree without paying any college tuition. And STC is accomplishing it with students that have traditionally had low high school graduation and college completion rates. The college received the Leah Meyer Austin Award in February from the Achieving the Dream Foundation for its work making systemic changes that contributed to a significant increase in student success.

Three models are in use: dual enrollment, which allows students to take classes free of charge at one of South Texas College's campuses while still in high school; dual enrollment academies, in which students attend their high schools from 7:30 am to noon and spend afternoons until 5 pm at South Texas college doing coursework towards an associates degree; and early college, where students finish high school with an associates degree while attending classes at their home school. Under the early college model, students earn high school and college credits simultaneously. Students in the early college programs also get training in college life skills such as time management, so that when they do go on to a four-year institution they are ready to succeed.

One of the major aspects of their program that is gaining national notice is that every high school in STC's service area qualified for free or reduced price lunch, and almost all students enrolled are first-generation college students.

In order to "move the needle" even more in terms of degree attainment, South Texas College has also launched a collaboration with the University of Texas –Pan American to allow students a seamless transition from STC to UTPA (which is also located in McAllen). Of the 19,000 students at UTPA, 14,000 of them have previously attended South Texas College, says STC president Shirley Reed.

Nine students from the dual enrollment academies have earned the Bill and Melinda Gates Scholarships, which will fund education through a doctoral degree if they choose.

South Texas College has the largest number of early college programs in the nation; they work with 12 intermediate school districts and 15 higher education partners. And tuition and fees are waived at STC for students in these programs so that they can be ready to go into a four-year institution or into the workplace in high-demand careers.

"We have exceeded $71 million savings to community," says Juan Mejia, vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer for South Texas College. "We had students who would not believe they could go to college, and we now have a major college-going and graduation culture in the region."

Source: South Texas College
Writer: Amy Kuras
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