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South Texas College's (STC) dual-enrollment academies for medical science, engineering and computer science are part of its larger effort to “raise expectations with support” in the predominantly Hispanic communities along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The academies embed science and technology career pathways within their dual-enrollment programs for high school juniors and seniors who are in the top 5-10 percent of their cohorts. The students take high school classes in the morning and are bused to STC campuses for college-level courses from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Friday afternoons are reserved for presentations from industry speakers, field trips, university visits or other programs that provide insights into STEM careers.
Despite the academies’ rigor, William Serrata, STC vice president for student affairs and enrollment management, said most students persist due to their strong personal motivation and hard work, and the assistance of student success specialists. The success specialists facilitate tutoring, counseling and academic advising services.
Graduation rates at the Dual Enrollment Medical Science Academy have ranged by cohort from 70-89 percent. The Dual Enrollment Engineering Academy, which at 72 credit hours is 11 hours more than the medical program, has a graduation rate between 40-53 percent, depending on the cohort.
Since the academies started in 2007, 275 students have graduated, simultaneously earning their high school diplomas and associate degrees. Another 107 of the 262 students currently enrolled in the academies will graduate this month. (This total includes the first five students from the Computer Science Academy.)
So far, academy graduates have received $6 million in scholarships from various sources to continue their undergraduate studies, Serrata said.
Options to prepare for college
In addition to the selective academies, STC offers nine early-college high schools (two are STEM focused) and dual-enrollment courses at high schools throughout the region.
Serrata reports that most STC dual-enrollment students take core curriculum courses including college algebra. Texas requires dual-enrolled students to test into college-level courses in the discipline in which they are enrolled. The growing popularity of dual enrollment at STC indicates that its collaborative efforts with local school districts, which contend with 30-40 percent dropout rates, are improving college-readiness and college-going rates.
The anticipated enrollment of 11,000 dual-enrollment students at STC next fall is also evidence of the paradigm shift that has occurred since the college joined Achieving the Dream in 2004 and its more recent involvement in the Developmental Education Initiative and Completion by Design. Historically, the region did not have a college-going culture. Today, 75 percent of STC students are first-generation college students, and 90 percent receive financial aid.
As part of its involvement in the three national, student-success initiatives, STC focused first on eliminating barriers to student success and then on credential completion. It made orientation mandatory for all incoming students, ended late registration, eliminated red tape in its financial aid processes and added intrusive advising to help create the conditions for more students to succeed.
“I want students to be challenged in the classroom, not by our processes,” Serrata said.
With 4,000 graduates this spring, STC’s graduation rate has increased 34 percent since 2009 when it had 2,200 graduates.
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