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Leslie’s progress at Alamo Colleges can be built upon

July 15, 2018

The trustees of the Alamo Community Colleges made a wise choice in selecting the president of Palo Alto College, Mike Flores, to be the successor to Bruce Leslie as chancellor of the system. Flores has earned wide respect for his stewardship at Palo Alto, is experienced in community college leadership and strategies, and understands the importance of putting higher education within reach of more San Antonians.

Flores will inherit the leadership of the Alamo Colleges at a time when the system is larger, at 65,000 students, and stronger in its programs than ever before. The elected governing board of trustees is more cohesive in its pursuit of broad educational excellence than I have ever seen.

For years, leaders of higher education have respected an elite group of community colleges as the best in the nation. This small group has not changed in decades: the Miami-Dade System, the Maricopa County (Phoenix) network and the Dallas Community Colleges. Recently, I spoke to one of the nation’s acknowledged leaders of the community college field, Eduardo Padron, who has been president of the Miami-Dade colleges for 23 years. He told me that he believes the San Antonio system is primed to be in the elite group. That would be good company to be in. But more important, it would be of immense importance to the college-ready students of our region because that level of excellence would touch hundreds of thousands of lives in profound ways over the decades to come.

Leslie’s leadership of the system for the past 12 years has been key in creating partnerships of faculty, students, civic leaders, businesses and other educational institutions. Through the expansion of partnerships with K-12 institutions and regional universities, he has contributed greatly to the creation of a college-going culture in the San Antonio area. Leslie assembled a top-notch leadership team, including the president of the district’s five colleges, and collaborated to create measurable progress on the most important metrics for an educational institution, student performance:

Course completion rates increased from 80 percent to 90 percent.

Fall-to-fall persistence rates improved from 60 percent to 66 percent.

Full-time student graduation rates rose from 9 percent to 20 percent.

Degrees and certificates awarded advanced from 4,219 to 12,756.

This documented progress is a result of the investment of millions of dollars for student support, including increasing the number of advisers at each of the colleges to provide students with the guidance needed to set career goals and chart pathways to success before attending their first class. This effort was complemented by the introduction of the AlamoINSTITUTES to allow students to easily attend more than one of the district colleges.

The community at large has witnessed the transformation of the district from an organization characterized by duplication of programs, conflicting procedures for registration and transfer of courses, and a burdened operational structure that was costly to taxpayers and students into a system of five colleges and district offices that is much more collaborative, efficient and responsive to student and community needs

We can be proud that the Alamo Colleges District regularly earns national awards from the organizations that rate community colleges. Among them are certification as one of the nation’s Lead Colleges by Achieving a Dream, achieving and maintaining a AAA bond rating with the top two rating agencies, the Distinguished Budget Presentation award from the Government Finance Officers Association and the Bellweather Award from the Community College Futures Assembly.

It is appropriate to express gratitude to Leslie for a job well-done. It is also a moment to remember that all the achievement, metrics and awards matter primarily because the system has made irrefutable progress toward reaching more students with excellent academic programs in a cost-efficient organization that is a bargain for the taxpayers of this area.

Leslie has set the stage for continuing a legacy of expanding opportunity. I am confident that Flores will build upon this progress and lead us to the next level.

(An earlier version incorrectly named Maricopa County).

Henry Cisneros served as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton and served four terms as mayor of San Antonio. He is a partner at the infrastructure finance firm Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co.

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