On Saturday, 204 high school seniors will be awarded associate degrees from Palo Alto College before earning their high school diploma.
They’re the first cohort to benefit from Palo Alto’s tuition-free early college high school programs, launched in 2014. According to school officials, 88 percent of students who signed up for the program four years ago earned enough college credits to graduate.
Adriana Tapia, one of the early college high school graduates, attended her first class at Palo Alto when she was a 14-year-old freshman at New Frontiers Charter School.
“It was kinda scary at first, but I quickly grew into it. It became second nature almost,” Tapia said.
She plans to study theater at East Texas Baptist University in the fall.
With 60 college credits under her belt, she’s on track to earn her bachelor’s degree before turning 21.
“What made it so easy to do this whole dual credit thing is that the classes and everything was free,” Tapia said.
Mike Flores, the president of Palo Alto College and incoming chancellor of the Alamo Colleges District, said early college high school is helping more south San Antonio students earn college degrees.
“When we think of the power of a degree, and its importance in social mobility, and in changing the trajectory of an individual’s life — but most importantly, their family’s life — it’s a multigenerational change that we’re embarking on,” Flores said.
He said the early college program is so popular that Palo Alto continues to add more schools each year.
State records show that almost 12,500 high school students were enrolled in dual credit classes across the Alamo Colleges District in the fall of 2017, simultaneously earning high school and college credit.
But their popularity might fade if the Alamo Colleges District is unable to continue offering dual credit to high school students free of charge.
Southside High School senior Loretta Nieto said she wouldn’t have been able to get a jump start on a nursing degree at Palo Alto while in high school if her family would have had to pay.
“I live with my grandparents. They provide, yes they do, and they do a lot for me. But at the same time, you know, we struggle every once in a while,” said Nieto, who is graduating second in her class at Southside High.
Nieto plans to finish her nursing prerequisites at Palo Alto, and then transfer to UT-Health San Antonio. Her goal is to become a nurse practitioner.
According to the Express-News, the Alamo Colleges lost more than $21 million from dual credit tuition waivers last fiscal year.
Trustees are considering changing the program this summer to make it more financially sustainable, including the possibility of charging partial tuition.
Camille Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille