Only one city in the country can boast that its community college system is a national award-winner from the federal government. It’s San Antonio.
Residents should be proud that their Alamo Colleges District – which includes Northeast Lakeview College, Northwest Vista College, Palo Alto College, St. Philip’s College, and San Antonio College – recently won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for its strides toward excellence.
Winning this award is like winning the Super Bowl. Many Fortune 500 companies have it on their wish list. It was 10 years in the making for this San Antonio institution. The Alamo Colleges board of directors started the district on the Baldrige journey by building a college system taxpayers can take pride in. Then the new chancellor, Dr. Mike Flores, helped obtain the winning touchdown when the Baldrige award was finally given to Alamo Colleges on Nov. 15, 2018.
The Alamo Colleges District is one of only five organizations to receive the award this year and is the first community college system to achieve this level of recognition in the history of the program. The National Institute of Standards and Technology bestowed this honor in part because the district’s graduation rate for students increased 150 percent over a four-year period and is best in the state. The number of students awarded scholarships increased from 580 to 2,175 and the award amounts grew from $500,000 in 2010 to more than $2 million since 2017.
Alamo Colleges District also focuses on empowering employees with its “leader-in-every-seat” philosophy, meaning everyone – each member of the faculty and staff, as well as each student – has ownership in student success. This philosophy is reinforced by employee WIGs, or Wildly Important Goals. These are team-specific goals aligned to the district’s objective of increasing student graduation rates.
At each of the colleges, there are many success stories to share. Numerous Alamo Colleges students go from dropping out of high school to finding their path to master’s degrees. Similarly, many single moms have gained the confidence needed to pursue their dreams by earning associate degrees and now are role models for their children. And there are countless stories of students who realize they can shave off future student loan debt by starting their college career at a community college.
Even with this award, Alamo Colleges District leadership realizes there is much work to be done to ensure that students from every part of the city have an opportunity for a college education. Open enrollment and low tuition costs are built into the community college model, but the long-term goal is to create a system that helps end poverty – and encourages social and economic mobility – so that the entire community benefits. The ACD approach is to open pathways to new skills and knowledge that appeal to each student, then actively encourage that student to complete the path chosen.
That’s not to say that obstacles don’t still exist on those pathways. So to help students tackle some of these, the college district launched three new initiatives. First, Alamo Colleges partnered with VIA Metropolitan Transit to offer no-cost rides to students and employees to help ease their transportation burden. Second, students can now apply for a Fresh Start scholarship of up to $500 to cover outstanding fees owed to the Alamo Colleges.
Finally, through AlamoPromise, Alamo Colleges District is working with city leaders to develop a sustainable funding model to give Bexar County high school graduates a last-dollar scholarship. Many students find that their financial aid may not cover all their academic expenses. A last-dollar scholarship will erase the monetary gap – making community college no cost to those who qualify.
“AlamoPromise will be truly transformative for our city,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg at a recent AlamoPromise steering committee meeting. “Tuition-free community college through a last-dollar scholarship is a game-changer for workforce and economic development.”
Winning the Baldrige Award solidified Alamo Colleges District as an educational leader. The college system continues to innovate to keep residents proud to say their sons and daughters attend one of the five colleges.
“This award was made possible by the dedication and vision of our board and our outstanding faculty and staff who collaborated effectively for many years to bring us to this moment,” said Flores. “There are no words to express the gratitude and pride the board and I feel as we celebrate the culmination of our efforts, which will benefit our students, our organization, and our community for years to come.”
To learn more about the Alamo Colleges District or one of the colleges, visit alamo.edu.