Local education, government and business leaders say a plan to pay for community college for all Bexar County high school graduates could transform San Antonio. Alamo Colleges Chancellor Mike Flores is confident that with their support the community college system will be able to launch the initiative next summer.
How It Will Work
The proposed Alamo Promise initiative would offer free tuition to Alamo Colleges for all Bexar County high school seniors. Promise students would also receive support to navigate college and find a career.
“It sends a message to every single family and every single student in our community in which, as they're making a decision, they're able to say San Antonio and Bexar County is going to invest in you, so college is possible,” Flores said.
The goal is to boost the county’s college-going rate to 70 percent. Less than 50 percent of high school seniors currently enroll in a Texas college the following year — and the number is much lower in poor and working class neighborhoods.
Less than 12 percent of Bexar County 8th graders from low-income families earn a college degree within six years of high school graduation.
The community college district plans to offer the scholarship to seniors at the 25 high schools with the highest concentration of poverty next year. The county’s remaining high schools would be added in 2021.
Students receive the scholarship if tuition isn’t covered by state and federal need-based grants, so most of the cost to the local community will be for students whose families are above the poverty line.
“Working class youth and middle income youth may not qualify for need-based aid, but they struggle just the same with their parents or family members to be able to afford a college education,” Flores said.
To be eligible, students will also need to attend a summer boot camp, maintain a 2.0 GPA and complete at least 18 credit hours a year.
Flores said it’s too soon to announce the particulars, but the funding should be in place to offer the first scholarships next summer.
“I'm really, really pleased with the reception, and I know that we're going to be at that point in which we'll be able to launch it successfully," Flores said.
Because most students will qualify for the federal Pell grant the first year, it’s expected to cost less: around $575,000.
But by the time the program is fully implemented it’s expected to cost around $12.9 million a year. District officials estimate that the scholarship program will cost almost $43 million over the next five years.
Alamo Promise has vocal support from both San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, although it’s not yet accompanied by dollar amounts.
“Alamo Promise is our moon shot that the city needs to reduce generational poverty and increase social mobility,” Nirenberg said. “Will the city be involved? Will the county be involved? Yes, we will be involved. It’s premature, though to talk about at what level.”
“I’m committed to trying to convince the commissioner’s court to help on the funding. I’m not sure what the level will be yet,” Wolff said. “Job training, talent development is the most important thing that we can be doing in our community.”
Both the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce are heavily involved in recruiting support from businesses and foundations — including a grant from JP Morgan Chase.
Chamber President Richard Perez said he thinks the fundraising will be successful.
“Money is always an issue in a city like San Antonio that has a lot of poor people, but we always come together and we lift people out of poverty, and that’s what this program will do.”
Alamo Promise is modeled after the national College Promise model. Dallas County and Lone Star College outside Houston have similar programs.