Incoming Alamo Colleges District Chancellor Talks Degrees, Goals & Controversy
When Mike Flores takes the helm of the Alamo Colleges District Oct. 1, he’ll be the district’s first Latino chancellor, and the first to be promoted from within.
After choosing Flores as its sole finalist in February, the Alamo Colleges Board of Trustees officially selected Flores to succeed current chancellor Bruce Leslie on Saturday.
Flores has worked for the community college district for 19 years, serving as president of Palo Alto College since 2012.
He said his first priority as chancellor will be to get input from students, faculty and the region.
“What I think is very important is to bring people around the table, is to solicit feedback from colleagues, from faculty and staff and most importantly from students about things that we do well — things that we could do better, and where they’d like to see us in the future,” Flores said.
During his 11-year tenure as chancellor, Leslie faced student protests and votes of no confidence from faculty for moves designed to streamline curriculum. Critics said Leslie had a heavy-handed, top-down approach, while proponents praised him for increasing the number of certificates and degrees awarded to students.
Flores said the relationships he’s develop with faculty and staff over the past 19 years will help him navigate that type of controversy.
“Change is constant in our environment and society, and higher education also has a lot of change,” said Flores, adding that the Alamo Colleges is in a stronger place today thanks to the groundwork Leslie laid down.
According to state records, the district has more than doubled the number of degrees and certificates it conferred over the last decade, from 3,752 in the 2004-2005 school year to 9,778 in the 2014-2015 school year.
During that time, the district made arrangements to count more of the students it teaches, such as retroactively awarding associates degrees to students who transfer to four-year universities. The district also has begun partnering with universities to simultaneously enroll students at one of its community colleges and a four-year school.
“Four of our eligible colleges were named to what’s called the Aspen Institute’s top 150, meaning we are in the top percent of community colleges nationwide. What they look at, actually, are graduation rates, which have actually tripled in the last four or five years,” Flores said.
Some school leaders working to increase the number of black and Latino students with college degrees believe community colleges aren’t the best option because they have lower graduation rates than four-year universities, but Flores disagrees.
“We’re now the largest producer of credentials within the state of Texas for community colleges, and 70 percent of students … are Hispanic — Latino — or African American, and the vast majority are first generation college students.”
Still, the most recent six-year graduation rate for the Alamo Colleges remains well below the state’s average of almost 61 percent for four-year public universities: between a high of 35 percent at Northeast Lakeview College and a low of 17 percent at St. Philip’s College for students who started either part-time or full-time in 2010.
“What I would look at is where we’ve been and where we are now, and where the Alamo Colleges are going,” Flores said. “There’s an upward trend and a positive trajectory.”
He said community colleges also make college possible and affordable for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go.
“We provide access in multiple ways. We provide instruction in high school through dual credit or early college high schools. We provide instruction on campus if somebody is 18 years of age plus. Courses start almost every week, so it is accessible and it is convenient.”
Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille