The summer after graduating from San Antonio College, Nia Houston was relaxing in the sun at her apartment pool when she got a phone call she thought was spam. 

“You’re getting your bachelor’s degree for free,” said a woman on the other end of the line. Houston hung up, but her phone rang again.

This time, she listened.

It turned out Houston, who was a part of the Alamo College District’s Alamo Promise program, was one of the first students to qualify for a new partnership with the University of Texas at San Antonio: the Promise-to-Promise program.

The very next day, Houston was at UTSA’s downtown campus, talking to the admissions counselor who advocated for her. 

The new partnership allows eligible students to start at any of the five Alamo Colleges, then transfer to UTSA to complete a four-year degree, while having educational costs covered at both institutions. 

UTSA and Alamo Colleges District officials united at the Alamo Colleges District offices near downtown Wednesday to formally announce the partnership. 

“What we’re [doing] is really significant,” said Mike Flores, chancellor of the Alamo Colleges District. “Students have conversations about, ‘Can I afford to go to school?’” He said students also worry they can’t cut back on work hours, either.

“What Promise has done is alleviate that issue, to be able to ensure that students can go to school debt-free,” Flores said. 

About 75% of Alamo Colleges students transfer to four-year universities to complete their degrees, according to the press release announcing Promise-to-Pormise. The majority of those who transfer enroll at UTSA; 85% stay there and graduate within 2.7 years, Flores said. 

Conversations about the partnership began in 2018, when UTSA and Alamo Colleges District officials began thinking about how to encourage a seamless transfer between the two institutions. Both UTSA and the Alamo Colleges District have invested money to support students through the program, but the cost varies per student because of grants, scholarships, tuition and fees. 

“This is part of the overall effort to increase college enrollment and really, to improve our workforce in our community. That’s what this is all about,” said Kimberly Andrews Espy, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at UTSA.

To qualify for the Promise-to-Promise program, students must start at one of the Alamo Colleges and qualify for AlamoPROMISE, which covers tuition and fees for graduates of 47 participating high schools. Then, the student would transfer to UTSA and gain eligibility to Promise-to-Promise.

The new program is distinct from UTSA’s Bold Promise program, which offers qualifying students the chance to have tuition and mandatory fees covered 100% for up to four academic years.

The Alamo Colleges District also already has a program to help students who may not qualify for guaranteed admission get into UTSA called On-TRAC, for Transitioning Roadrunners at Alamo Colleges. That program has helped nearly 500 students.

Houston is among the inaugural group of students in the Promise-to-Promise program, which will begin with students admitted to UTSA in the fall of 2023.

A business marketing major, Houston said she “won the jackpot twice” because she graduated from San Antonio College debt-free, and will graduate from UTSA in the summer of 2023. She hopes to be a unit director at H-E-B, then general manager, working her way up the corporate ladder.

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. A 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University, her work has been recognized by the Texas Managing Editors. She previously worked...