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Dual credit gets a leg up thanks to the support of The Greehey Family Foundation

Greehey Photo
Ramon Patiño, a senior at Jefferson High School, has benefited from dual credit classes, which he took at the UTSA Downtown Campus.

In an effort to expand dual credit offerings to a wide range of San Antonio ISD students, The Greehey Family Foundation has committed $1.5 million in support of dual credit over the next three years through the SAISD Foundation. The Greehey Scholars Program will be offered to students starting in the fall of 2019, and aims to help approximately 2,000 high school students take dual credit courses through 2022.

According to Liz Ozuna, director of Advanced Academics and Post-Secondary Initiatives, her department’s vision for The Greehey Scholars Program is by 2022, to more than double the current number of high school students in SAISD comprehensive high schools who graduate with 15-plus hours of dual credit.

Alamo Colleges will play an essential role in the expansion of dual credit at SAISD. The institution helps certify SAISD teachers as adjunct faculty to teach dual credit courses at a student’s home high school. Students also have the option to attend classes taught by Alamo College faculty at Alamo College campuses throughout the year. The University of Texas at Austin (UTA) helps provide certification for SAISD teachers to teach online courses in conjunction with UTA professors. Additionally, the University of Texas as San Antonio (UTSA) offers face-to-face classes with UTSA faculty at the university’s downtown campus.

Ramon Patiño, a senior at Jefferson High School, can’t say enough about how he has benefited from dual credit classes, which he took at the UTSA Downtown Campus.

“Dual credit programs have given me the experience of what a real college class is like,” said Ramon. “Being able to interact with a college professor has helped me realize what I need to do to be prepared for when I head off to college in the fall.”

Since there are no student fees for these courses, philanthropic funds are critical to the expansion of these offerings, covering the District’s costs, including fees to Alamo Colleges and UTSA, books and transportation.

According to research, interaction and exposure to college-style learning is just as important to SAISD students as the information presented in dual credit courses.

“A critical piece of this grant will provide the bus transportation which gives students the opportunity to get to a college campus,” said Dr. Annelise Vela, dual credit coordinator with Advanced Academics. “We feel like these students need the experience on a college campus to make them feel more adult, more responsible. We are planting those seeds so that we can guarantee a better success rate for our students once they enter a post-secondary institution upon graduation.”

According to Ozuna, her team is hoping that once a student has any amount of college credit, they will be able to better envision themselves enrolled full-time at an institution of higher education.

“It’s about building that confidence of, ‘Yeah, I can take this!” said Vela. “I think that is why Ramon’s story is so powerful because he talks about that confidence that was built in his dual credit courses and we hear that over and over from kids. ‘I took that class and I understood how to keep up with the pace and having to take a college-level test.’ They become familiar with a syllabus, how to get on software like Blackboard, and how to email a professor with the appropriate language. Those are things that are really a deterrent sometimes when some students get to college because no one has trained them in that.”

Judy Geelhoed, executive director of the SAISD Foundation, thought this work would be a strong match for The Greehey Family Foundation because of the group’s strong support for post-secondary education. Geelhoed also mentioned the research of Mike Villarreal, founding director of the Institute on Urban Education at UTSA, in support for this proposal.

“What Mike Villarreal’s research has shown is that for our kids, in our district, there is a strong correlation between dual-credit and post-secondary degree attainment,” said Geelhoed. “We know that dual credit is not just about the speed at which you can graduate; it is also self-efficacy, it’s having a college ID, it’s knowing that you can do that caliber of work. All of those pieces are really important for our kids.”

Geelhoed ultimately hopes that more kids in SAISD’s comprehensive high schools will choose to enroll in college because of The Greehey Scholars Program.

“Just like with the college tour expansion, when students get tapped and we say, ‘We believe you can do this, come on along’ and they do, that is exciting,” she said. “It lets us not just pay attention to those students who are doing great work and would probably do okay without our touch; these are kids who think they maybe couldn’t do that work. To see them be successful, that is what I am most excited about. We are so appreciative for The Greehey Family Foundation for making this expansion of dual credit at SAISD possible.”

To increase higher education opportunities in 2019, SAISD has also recommended legislative policies that ensure that the State covers the costs of dual credit courses, so the burden does not fall too heavily on school districts or community colleges.