Posted Date: 04/29/2019
On this warmer than average day in mid-April at South Texas College, students walk with a little more urgency as they finally begin to finish the semester. Graduation is a little more than a month away, and already the excitement of commencement is building.
Indeed, the sense of accomplishment that lies just beneath the surface on campus is something that needs to be witnessed. It’s infectious. Students talk just a little more confidently, plans for the future are often overheard in hallways or on the way to class, and for those students who still have a ways to go, the end will always justify the means.
In academia, the only real constant is change. A brand new semester eventually ends, seasons shift, and students who graduate are finally ready to make their mark on the world.
It seems the only thing that really stays the same here is the goal of the College itself. STC, just like the more than 1,200 community colleges across the nation, promotes at its core its specialty transitioning eager students into bright futures and meaningful jobs.
The stories of how they get there are as varied as they are powerful.
Edna Rodriguez says she recently came back to college after being away for years in order to take care of her young son. A first-generation student, she waited patiently until her son was older before entering a degree plan in medical diagnostics and sonography.
Deciding not to rely on any kind of financial aid to pay for school, she has instead opted to pay for her classes out of pocket. The arrangement has been difficult, she said, but it’s a better option than applying for loans which she is unsure she could ever repay.
“I'm paying as I go,” Edna said. “I do not want to take out a loan because I don't want to owe anything, so I'm taking a few classes here and there because that's all I can afford at the moment.”
The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), www.aacc.nche.edu, has recently unveiled statistics that highlight the importance of community colleges for students just like Edna across the nation.
As of January 2019, there are 1,051 regionally accredited associate degree-granting colleges nationwide with over 7 million registered students, according to AACC. The average age for students is 28 years old even though more than 54 percent are 22 years of age or younger.
At least 29 percent of all students in community colleges are first generation college students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) citing a 2015-16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.
Community college students in fall 2017 comprised 41 percent of all U.S. undergraduates that year, according to NCES, which cited figures from an enrollment survey by Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) in 2017.
Forty percent of all community college students are first-time freshmen and 52 percent are Hispanic, according to NCES.
Annual tuition and fees to attend a community college during the 2017-2018 school year averaged to about $3,660 compared with $10,230 for a four-year university, according to AACC referencing a “Trends in College Pricing” report by the College Board in 2018.
“We are not to be underestimated,” said South Texas College President Dr. Shirley A. Reed. “Students are keenly aware of the fact that their education has to fall in line with the changing demands of modern life. I believe our college is exceptionally suited to meet this demand and our student population reflects this.”
As of spring 2019, more than 34,000 have registered at STC’s six campuses, more if you count the continuing education students who are taking non-credit courses in a wide variety of career and professional areas.
In these times when community college revenues amounted to over $60 billion nationwide for the 2016-2017 school year, according to an IPEDS finance survey, Dr. Reed says that over the years the accumulated contribution of former students currently employed in the state workforce amounted to $325.4 million in added income.
As a whole, the economic impact of STC in its service area for FY 2012-2013 was $447.6 million in income, according to the last economic report released by the college in 2014.
“South Texas College really serves as a catalyst for economic development, which leads to regional prosperity and better quality of life for families,” Dr. Reed said. “Through the college, students are provided affordable access to higher education, whether they’re 16 or 65. We’re affordable, we’re conveniently located, we have very high-quality programs, and we have passionate faculty and staff committed to the success of each student.”
More than 73 percent of all students applying for college receive some form of financial aid, and 62 percent of that comes from federal aid, according to a 2015-2016 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study by NCES.
STC takes pride in emphasizing its quality of education, along with the most affordable tuition rates in the nation. Priorities for the college are to not only provide students with outstanding instruction from dedicated staff and faculty, but also to do everything possible to help students graduate with absolutely zero debt.
The estimated cost for tuition and fees for fall 2019 averages $231 for three credit hours for in-district residents.
“At South Texas College, students receive a quality education at only a fraction of the cost,” said Mike Carranza, Dean of Enrollment Services at STC. “After more than two decades, South Texas College has established a tradition centered on student success and achievement, which is a result of the professional commitment and dedication of the entire college faculty, staff and leadership team that have made STC an integral part of the growth in the region,”
More than 34 percent of federal aid received by community colleges comes in the form of Pell Grants, 24 percent of aid is in Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), 18 percent is federal work study, 13 percent is in subsidized federal loans, and 6 percent in unsubsidized federal loans, according to a 2018 “Trends in Student Aid” report by the College Board.
62 percent of all full-time students at community colleges are also employed, and 21 percent of those are employed full-time as well.
After working full-time with McAllen School District, Edna says she resigned two years ago to focus solely on her college education. Now she only has four more classes to complete before she enters the sonography program. Now 32 years old, age she says, doesn’t matter. The only thing that does matter is what she does to improve her kids’ lives.
“One day, my kids will realize that age doesn’t matter, they will always have the idea that they can move forward and get a degree. That’s what I have given them,” Edna said.