A proposal to offer free community college tuition to graduating Bexar County high school seniors is nowhere near final, but plans are moving forward to get the program in place for an initial rollout in fall 2020.

The Alamo Colleges District announced Wednesday the 18 industry, education, and elected officials who will sit on the Alamo Promise steering committee. The committee is an “alignment group to help facilitate seamless transitions for our students as they progress from high school onto community college, university, and career,” an Alamo Colleges spokesperson said. They will work in an advisory role.

Alamo Promise would cover the tuition for graduating Bexar County high school seniors to attend Alamo Colleges and obtain their associate degrees. Local elected officials and education advocates have hailed this potential program as a game-changer, saying it has the potential to end the cycle of poverty for the area’s poorest students.

“With Alamo Promise, we will impact not only our students and their families, but the larger community as well,” Flores said. “We will make a college education possible for a larger percentage of high school graduates and address regional workforce needs by providing more graduates who have the skills to qualify for the high-demand, high-wage jobs that often go unfilled in one of the fastest growing regions in the country.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, and Chancellor Mike Flores will chair the committee. Members include the presidents of the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas A&M University – San Antonio, presidents and CEOs of chambers of commerce, area superintendents, and other local education advocates. For a full list of committee members, look here.

Alamo Colleges officials plan to begin recruitment for the first class of Alamo Promise by next fall in a select number of high schools and start with the first cohort in fall 2020.

Officials chose the 24 campuses on the initial list because of their low-income student populations. The list of schools is preliminary and being used for estimates during the development process. It has yet to be voted on by the Alamo Colleges board.

The potential schools included in the first cohort of Alamo Promise are:

  • East Central High School
  • Kennedy High School
  • Memorial High School
  • Harlandale High School
  • McCollum High School
  • Judson High School
  • Wagner High School
  • LEE High School
  • Roosevelt High School
  • Holmes High School
  • Jay High School
  • Brackenridge High School
  • Burbank High School
  • Edison High School
  • Fox Tech High School
  • Highlands High School
  • Sam Houston High School
  • Jefferson High School
  • Lanier High School
  • Young Women’s Leadership Academy
  • Somerset High School
  • South San Antonio High School
  • Southside High School
  • Southwest High School

Alamo Promise is still under development. Many decisions have yet to be made about how it will operate and which students may be eligible. Other college promise programs have different rules on who qualifies for tuition assistance.

Dallas County Promise, a nearby college promise program that has been studied by Alamo Colleges officials as they develop Alamo Promise, covers any remaining tuition balance for three years or the completion of an associate degree, whichever comes first.

Steering committee members plan to visit one of the more notable college promise programs, the Tennessee Promise, in early May. They plan to visit with TN Achieve Executive Director Kristy DeAlejandro in a visit to Knoxville.

The Alamo Colleges program will be a “last-dollar” scholarship that covers outstanding costs after a student already has applied for scholarships and federal financial aid. Chancellor Flores estimated in January that the program could cost between $2 million and $15 million per year, depending on how many students take advantage.

A recent press release states the program would be funded with support from “public and private sector partners and foundations.” An Alamo Colleges spokesperson told the Rivard Report in early April that there had been no updates on funding the program.

Alamo Colleges did have an informational meeting with the San Antonio Area Foundation to discuss the Alamo Promise program, the spokesperson said.

Many questions remain about the potential success of a local college promise program considering all but three of the 24 schools included on the preliminary list have less than 40 percent of students graduate “college ready.”

Moreover, as of June 2018, Alamo Colleges’ three-year graduation rate of full-time students was 24.7 percent and part-time students was 11.3 percent.

Steering committee members will likely examine these challenges in the coming months as they prepare for the recruitment of the first class of Alamo Promise students in the coming school year.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.