At the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce (SACC), we frequently introduce new companies to our wonderful city, and one way to make San Antonio more competitive is to show we have an educated workforce. This is where the Alamo Colleges District is an economic development catalyst – offering students an affordable and quality education at any stage of their adult lives.

As a San Antonio College (SAC) graduate, I am proud of the educational foundation it gave me. Along with SAC, the city is home to Northwest Vista College, St. Philip’s College, Palo Alto College, and Northeast Lakeview – a family of colleges that make up the Alamo Colleges District (ACD), which services every part of the city. 

However, data shows we need to do more to make sure our high school graduates have an opportunity to achieve a college education. According to 2016 data from San Antonio’s UP Partnership, many inner-city high schools fall in the 30 percent to low 40 percent range of students who are enrolling in Texas-based colleges and universities the fall semester after high school graduation. The state average is 49 percent. In 2011, 45 percent of economically disadvantaged graduates in Bexar County public high schools enrolled in college the fall after high school graduation. In 2016, that number dropped to just 39 percent. 

We must do more to improve these rates if we want to show companies that San Antonio has an educated population. The good news is that the award-winning Alamo Colleges District has been successful in letting residents know there are affordable stepping stones to an education. 

Enrollment at the five colleges has increased by 21 percent in 12 years. Additionally, from 2011 to 2017, the number of degrees and certificates awarded has more than doubled to 12,756. The combined efforts of the colleges and the district to support operations helped the organization win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, a performance excellence honor that many Fortune 500 companies have on their wish list. 

Helping students graduate is crucial because education leads to a better life for everyone. For instance, education changed the trajectory of the Alamo Colleges District’s new chancellor, Mike Flores. His parents were first-generation college students, but started off life as migrant farmworkers. Now, his vision of ending poverty through education is a bold undertaking that could effectuate social and economic mobility for San Antonio communities and a positive impact to our local economy. 

Flores has been seeking ways to remove barriers for students, such as finding funding to provide no-cost college for many Bexar County high school graduates, and partnering with VIA Transit to provide no-cost bus rides to students and employees. 

The district recently announced Fresh Start, which awards students a scholarship up to $500 to cover outstanding fees owed to the Alamo Colleges District. Additionally, every college offers some form of Dual Credit program including Early College High School which provides students an opportunity to earn both a high school diploma and a college associate degree at the same time. These programs are at no cost to them and their families. 

At the SACC, we believe the opportunity for quality education is fundamental to enhancing the quality of life and essential to meeting the needs of the business community. The work the ACD is doing to help our future workers will only help build a stronger and more successful community. As an ACD alumna, I thank them for their exceptional contributions to improving San Antonio.

Paula Gold-Williams is President & CEO of CPS Energy, the nation’s largest municipally owned gas and electric company.