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Dual credit helping area students succeed in college

August 19, 2018

The educational needs of our community are as diverse as the community itself. That’s one reason the Alamo Colleges District adopted as its mission empowering its diverse communities for success.

It’s also the reason that Southwest Independent School District has been able to increase dual credit enrollment by nearly 30 percent in the past five years. The number of dual credit students fluctuated during that time. What did not change was that 70 percent of SWISD dual credit students face socioeconomic challenges. Providing all students a post-high school path is the focus and chief benefit of dual credit programs.

An editorial in the San Antonio Express-News stated that a “recently released study indicates dual credit enrollment is not turning out to be the cure-all for the nation’s higher education woes.” We agree it is not a cure-all. Our community’s educational institutions have a diverse range of programs to respond to the multiple educational needs of our community. Dual credit is a powerful tool to make education accessible, reduce financial burdens, and provide a highly skilled workforce and economic growth.

The SWISD community includes a large first generation in college population. Our community is robust in pride and potential. The community’s potential is shown in the 30 percent increase in students achieving college credit while attending high school. A total of 20 percent of Alamo Colleges District students are enrolled in dual credit — twice the state average.

The growing dual credit enrollment has resulted in a $25 million investment in high school programs by the Alamo Colleges. This significant investment allows students a head start on post-high school opportunities, at no cost to our families, stretching students’ financial aid dollars and increasing educational opportunities.

The investment from our community, shared between the Alamo Colleges and school districts, provides a return that is showcased in students’ success. It is evident in the story of Valeria Lerma who garnered 32 dual credit hours during her time at SWISD, all of which were accepted by the University of Texas at Austin. Dual credit allowed her to chart a course toward a master’s degree and medical school. It was a tool to propel her from an undeserved sector of the city to a path that will allow her to give back to her community.

Diego Lomeli is a former bilingual student at Southwest High School who will return to Columbia University for his second year in a few weeks. His experience with dual credit was a contributor to a successful first year at Columbia. The rigor of dual credit classes prepared him to continue his baccalaureate journey. More than 70,000 students have benefited from high school programs at the Alamo Colleges in the past six years.

Alamo Colleges’ dual credit students excel, completing an average of 96 percent of their courses, with an average of 92 percent earning a C or better, which is higher than non-dual credit students. Alamo Colleges’ dual credit students graduate sooner than non-dual credit students, regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Their three-year graduation rate is two times the rate of non-dual credit students.

Dual credit students are college ready. They must pass a state-required exam and demonstrate college readiness before taking any college-level credit courses. Our high school and Alamo Colleges teachers collaborate, attend trainings, and align curriculum and rigor to prepare students for success.

The greater San Antonio area is ripe with potential. Its people are its greatest resource, and our educational institutions must offer a variety of paths to realize that potential, no matter where students are in their educational journey. The Alamo Colleges and SWISD embrace that challenge and continue to champion dual credit for the fast-track, low-cost, upward mobility it provides.

Dual credit has opened doors that have been mostly closed for our young people, predominately underserved youth. If we are to open a dialogue on dual credit, we should approach it with the glass half-full and a focus on enhancements. Dual credit may not be a panacea, but it is a force to a better and more educated society.

Lloyd Verstuyft is superintendent of Southwest Independent School District.

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