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Alamo Colleges expands free tuition program to all Bexar County ISD schools

Every senior enrolled in a traditional public school in Bexar County is now eligible for free tuition at the Alamo Colleges.

The community college system has expanded its AlamoPROMISE scholarship program to include everyone who graduates from a Bexar County school district, as planned when the free tuition program was first launched.

“This is really about ensuring that each and every one of our graduating high school students within San Antonio and within Bexar County are able to earn a credential, they're able to affirm or sustain their foothold in the American middle class,” said Chancellor Mike Flores during an event announcing the expansion.

“When we talk to students in high school, it's not that 'I don't want to go to college’, it is 'whether I can afford to go to college.' And it's not only paying the tuition and fees, it's often times, 'can I afford to work less hours?'”

Flores said AlamoPROMISE takes that question off the table when combined with support services the community college system provides students, including a food pantry and emergency loans.

AlamoPROMISE covers tuition and fees for up to three years at one of the Alamo Colleges.

The first year of the program, in 2020, eligibility was limited to 25 high schools located in higher poverty neighborhoods. Originally, the Alamo Colleges planned to expand access to all traditional public high schools in Bexar County the following year, but the program expansion has been spread out over the past three years instead because of the pandemic.

Flores said they rolled the scholarship out slowly to make sure they had the funds to sustain it.
“This feels phenomenal [to make every high school eligible as planned]. This is a game changer for our community,” Flores said. “It's what we originally envisioned. Of course, we had COVID in between.”

About 20,000 seniors from 73 high schools are now eligible for AlamoPROMISE. The community college system is expecting to enroll 5,500 next fall.

Flores said he feels confident the Alamo Colleges can afford the expansion now and in the future due to nearly $13 million in corporate and private donations and an expanded commitment of $2.5 million from the City of San Antonio. He also pointed to Alamo Colleges District’s board approval of budget commitments, starting at $2.7 million next fiscal year and growing to $4.8 million by fiscal year 2026.

“It all comes together to make this a reality: that 20,000 eligible students within our community are able to come to and enroll in our five colleges,” Flores said. “What we've done early on being able to secure those nearly $13 million of private funds, and also ensuring that the city is a consistent partner, is we've answered a lot of those questions [about sustainability].”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg was on the steering committee formed to plan the launch of AlamoPROMISE. He seconded Flores’s description of the scholarship program as the city’s “moonshot to end generational poverty.”

“I remember saying when there was a little bit of a debate happening on the public side of this, that this would be our most important dollar spent from the city budget. I stand by that,” Nirenberg said. “We are laser focused in San Antonio on building an inclusive economy, one in which every person has the opportunity to prosper from the growth and the trajectory of a city that we know is going places.”

AlamoPROMISE is a last-dollar scholarship, which means the community college system covers the cost of any tuition and fees not covered by state and federal grants. Because low-income students qualify for more grants, more local funding is needed to cover middle-income students whose families may also struggle to afford to pay for college.

Melissa Guzman’s son, Ayden Rodriguez, is a senior at Brennan High School in the Northwest Independent School District. The expansion of AlamoPROMISE allows him to take advantage of the scholarship.

Ayden was taking a calculus final during the Promise announcement, but Guzman said knowing his college tuition is covered is a relief for her family.

“Times have changed. The cost of living, obviously, now, with everything happening, has changed,” Guzman said. “My husband and I were thinking about how … we’re gonna have to figure out something financially to pay for his tuition. Luckily now [we’re] blessed that we have the AlamoPROMISE, so that will be one less thing that we will have to worry about as parents.”

Her son plans to study computer science at Northwest Vista College and then transfer to the University of Texas at San Antonio.

UTSA recently expanded its own free tuition program, Bold Promise, to include AlamoPROMISE participants who transfer to UTSA. Students also need to have a 3.25 GPA and a family income of $70,000 or less to qualify for the transfer scholarship.

In order to qualify for AlamoPROMISE, seniors need to fill out a “Save Your Seat” form online and submit their financial aid applications by February 28.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.
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