The Alamo Colleges District announced a $1 million donation to the Alamo Promise program on Monday, which will help ensure the viability of the scholarship initiative for five more years.

Malú and Carlos Alvarez donated the money to establish the Alvarez Challenge Grant, which will fund scholarships for Alamo Promise students. The grant is supposed to be completed over five years, with the Alvarez family matching donations of at least $25,000 up to $1 million total, said Sheila Marlow Due, executive director of the Alamo Colleges Foundation.

“Mr. Alvarez has been a longtime supporter of Alamo Colleges,” she said. “He loves supporting students. He feels like education is the key to a great future, and he certainly pays it forward.”

Alamo Promise is a new, free-tuition program offered by Alamo Colleges that began recruiting high school seniors last year. Students who graduate from 25 high schools in San Antonio and are Bexar County residents are eligible for the “last-dollar” scholarship program, said Stephanie Vasquez, chief program officer for Alamo Promise. Students’ tuition and fees are covered for up to three years or until they complete an associate degree.

Marlow Due said Carlos Alvarez wanted to “entice other philanthropic supporters to give” by establishing the matching grant. Alvarez will donate up to $400,000 a year for the next five years.

“It gives us an opportunity to challenge our donors and meet new donors who are willing to give a gift at that level,” she said.

More than 3,200 students have expressed interest in enrolling in Alamo Promise next fall, the second year the program will have been in place, Vasquez said. Currently, about 2,900 students are enrolled as Alamo Promise scholars at the five community colleges.

“This just positions us to ensure that we have the funding available to support those last-dollar needs for what we hope is a growing number of students who are expressing interest right now,” she said.

Alamo Colleges Chancellor Mike Flores said in a statement that the Alvarez family recognizes the challenges students face in going to college and completing their educational goals.

“They also know how critical financial assistance, such as that offered by Alamo Promise, is to helping students to overcome these challenges,” Flores said in the statement. “We are honored and grateful for their generosity that will help so many students achieve social and economic mobility.”

Carlos Alvarez said in a statement that he and his wife, Malú, have been committed to supporting education for a long time, supporting many scholarship recipients over the years. The Alvarez family owns the Gambrinus Company in San Antonio, which sells and markets Shiner Beers.

“It is extremely gratifying to us that our first large commitment was to the Alamo Community College District Foundation to fund the endowment for the Gambrinus Scholars,” he said in the statement. “At that time, nearly 20 years ago, we felt that this institution was the best investment vehicle to help students with limited financial resources find realistic pathways to a college education. Today, our support for Alamo Promise reaffirms and builds upon this belief.”

Alamo Promise is funded through an agreement with the City of San Antonio and Bexar County and through private donations, Vasquez said. The community college district estimated last year that the program would cost about $122 million over the first five years, with federal financial aid covering most, $88 million, of those costs. Alamo Colleges estimated it would need to raise $18 million in private donations over the program’s first 10 years.

Alamo Colleges still needs to raise about $13 million of the $18 million goal for Alamo Promise’s first 10 years, Vasquez said.

“COVID-19, while it has brought out the ugly in a lot of people, it has really brought out the best in philanthropy. People who give are going to give, and they’re going to give it to people in need,” Marlow Due said. “We’re on a great trajectory to end poverty through education in San Antonio because of Alamo Promise and because of our community supporters. It’s a good time to be a student at Alamo Colleges.”

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.