Texas Border Business
MCALLEN, TX – It’s the 20th anniversary of South Texas College’s Dual Credit Programs, and over the years, more than 106,000 high school students have participated and earned college credit – saving families more than $200 million with tuition-free college classes. The program features four options in which students can take college courses while still in high school. Many even receive their associate degree weeks before their high school graduation, putting them on the fast track to their higher educational goals.
No one knows the program better than Dr. Rebecca De Leon, a Rio Grande Valley native, former dual credit student, and the Dean for Dual Credit Programs at South Texas College.
“I participated in dual credit while in high school and completed 17 college credit hours,” says De Leon. “My mom was a migrant farm worker, so to her and my father, education was first— they didn’t care what I majored in, I just had to get a degree!”
“When I started taking my courses at the university setting, I felt very well prepared for the rigor and knew what was expected, including time management and strong study habits.”
STC boasts one of the largest Dual Credit Programs in the state, serving high school students, tuition-free, since 2000. The program collaborates with 70 high schools across the Valley and offers four options, so students can follow the specific option that meets their career and educational goals.
The first option is Dual Credit Courses, which are perfect for students who want to complete their core curriculum requirements. This option entails about 42 college hours, and students can start as early as 10th grade.
The next option is the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Program, geared toward students who want to complete a workforce certificate so they can start working right after high school. Students choose from more than 40 workforce programs to earn college credit toward an Associate of Applied Science degree or a certificate in a high-demand technical field.
Early College High Schools by design provide participating high school students the opportunity to earn up to 60 credit hours and/or an associate degree. In this option, students start earning college credit as early as the spring semester of the ninth grade.
Meanwhile, in the Academy Programs, students focus on achieving associate degrees in the STEM fields, as well as business and criminal justice. The program has an astounding 100 percent graduation rate and 100 percent transfer rate, and to date, 12 students have received the Gates Millennium Scholarship to continue their education in bachelor’s and doctoral degree programs.
It took dedication and vision from South Texas College leaders to make the programs the successes they are today.
“In 1999, Nicolas Gonzalez led the Dual Credit Programs at STC and assisted in writing House Bill 415, which transformed this opportunity for high school students,” explains De Leon. “Through Mr. Gonzalez’s vision and persistence, he began to visit local school districts and advertise the program within the community.” Now, 20 years later, the programs have grown from 441 students to more than 15,000 in Spring 2019, demonstrating just how much support the Dual Credit Programs have received.
The Dual Credit Programs at STC are widely recognized and have won multiple awards, including the 2012 Star Award from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the 2015 Excelencia in Education Award and the 2015 “Bright Spots in Hispanic Education” recognition by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. De Leon says these awards demonstrate how the school excels in serving its student population, which is approximately 94 percent Latinos.
“Our program truly makes a difference in students’ lives, especially for those who are first-generation. We have seen and continue
All of the credits from the Dual Credit Programs transfers to two- and four-year public schools in the State of Texas. In fact, STC has more than 150 articulation agreements with universities in Texas and beyond. Students also have the option of transferring into one of South Texas College’s four bachelor programs.
“I truly believe that the Dual Credit Programs has transformed the culture in the Rio Grande Valley. It has set a foundation for students to have an opportunity to start earning college hours that lead to a degree while in high school,” said De Leon.
Krystal Flores is just one outstanding success stories, as a 2009 graduate from the Dual Enrollment Medical Science Academy (DEMSA) at Rio Grande City High School. “As a first-generation, low-income student, the DEMSA program laid a strong foundation from which I was able to build a successful academic career,” Flores says.
And Flores has certainly excelled in her studies. At STC, she was one of 12 Dual Enrollment Academy students to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship. She went on to complete a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Public Health at Texas A&M University and is currently a doctoral student in the school’s Maternal and Child Health Program. Presently, she is focusing her research on disparities in reproductive health service access for women and adolescent girls in the Rio Grande Valley.
Flores’ experience in the DEMSA program inspired her to become an instructor at the Texas A&M University Higher Education Center in the Rio Grande Valley.
“I currently work with many first-generation, low-income students — some of whom are former South Texas College graduates,” says Flores. “I believe every student in the Rio Grande Valley should have the opportunity to obtain a college degree.
“For this reason, I am a strong supporter of any and every effort by South Texas College to provide educational opportunities to youth in the area.”
For more information, visit southtexascollege.edu/dual or call 956-872-3520.