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Alamo Colleges chancellor says workforce programs are the district’s next ‘north star’

Two men in suits sits in upholstered chairs on a stage.
Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio
Texas Higher Education Commissioner Harrison Keller, left, speaks with Alamo Colleges Chancellor Mike Flores during the community college system's state of the district luncheon February 13, 2024.

Five years after setting a goal to end poverty in San Antonio through the free-tuition Promise program, Alamo Colleges Chancellor Mike Flores said Tuesday the second step towards that goal is to ramp up workforce credentials.

It’s a goal that aligns with San Antonio’s Ready to Work program and the state’s push to “Build a Talent Strong Texas.” Both the city and state initiatives have financial backing.

At a luncheon to update business leaders on the state of the community college system, Flores said the Alamo Colleges have come a long way in five years.

Substantial donations from private companies are a key component of funding for AlamoPROMISE.

“We only have five colleges, but it's like we added a sixth within the last five years,” Flores said. “Net new growth of 11,000 students overall, which is one of the best not only in the United States but within the state of Texas.”

Flores said Alamo Colleges enrolled a record number of first-year undergrads this past fall — the same semester access to PROMISE expanded to anyone who graduated from high school in Bexar County the year before, including charter schools and private schools.

“Those 14,000 students did not arrive by chance. It is our enrollment coaches, our teams of staff being able to recruit students, but it's also providing a no-cost, high-quality undergraduate experience,” Flores said.

But, to continue the push to reduce San Antonio’s high poverty rate, Flores told the business leaders the next step is to ramp up credentials for high-wage, high-demand fields.

“We want to be able to move from 8,000 to 15,000 (workforce) students,” Flores said.

According to Denise Blaz with district communications, the Alamo Colleges considers any program that prepares students for a specific career a workforce program, including short-term certificates, associate degrees, and San Antonio College’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Many programs are designed to be stackable, allowing students to first earn a certificate, then work their way up to a degree.

As part of the district’s goal to double workforce capacity in five years, ACD is in the process of launching dozens of new career-oriented programs. So far, the Alamo Colleges board has approved 17 new programs for fall 2024, according to a list provided by Blaz. That includes a Bachelor of Applied Technology in Cloud Computing at Northwest Vista College and an associate degree for power line workers at Northeast Lakeview College.

Flores said the goal is to have at least one career-oriented bachelor degree at each of the district’s five colleges, because that can give students annual incomes above $50,000 within three years of graduation.

“Not only nursing but allied health and health professions--that is $53,000. If they're going into IT with certifications and degrees, the same. If they're looking at manufacturing or logistics, it's over $50,000,” Flores said.

Palo Alto College launched a bachelor’s in operations management this semester, and St. Philip’s College will offer a bachelor’s in cybersecurity in the fall.

"You saw what we've been able to achieve in five years, but imagine in the next five years or the next 10 plus, if we could see different headlines," Flores said. “If we would have a workforce revolution; that San Antonio would be a top source of high-demand talent. That we would be able to top the national charts in graduation rates not only at the Alamo Colleges, but throughout our community.”

“We have achieved a moonshot with Promise. But we have other things in the North Star that we would like to achieve,” Flores added.

The Alamo Colleges got a big boost towards funding PROMISE and other district initiatives last year when the state revamped the way it funds community colleges.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Harrison Keller spearheaded that funding revamp, which shifted funding from enrollment to student outcomes.

Flores sat down with Keller during the luncheon to talk about the ways their goals align. Keller told him the economic shakeup caused by the pandemic framed his goals for the state.

“We had hundreds of thousands of Texans who were out of work and sometimes needed to be reskilled and upskilled just to get a similar job in the same industry,” Keller said. “And frankly, we didn't have the workforce education infrastructure as a state to meet those challenges.”

Keller said it’s not enough to count how many Texans have degrees — they need to be what he calls credentials of value.

“Are you better off for earning that credential? Are you going to break even within, say, ten years if you make the investment to earn that credential? And if the answer is no, we don't want to count it.”

The new law that overhauled community college funding in Texas also included a new pathway to earn a high school diploma. Keller said he asked Flores for help piloting the program.

And before I finished my pitch, Mike had already said, ‘We're in,’” Keller said.

Keller said the new diploma pathway being developed by Alamo Colleges will give students credit for the skills they demonstrate, and help adults enrolled in workforce programs who didn’t finish high school.

Roughly 15% of adults in San Antonio don’t have a high school diploma.

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.