Valentine’s Day marked an important deadline for students interested in taking advantage of Alamo Promise, the new program that pledges to cover Alamo Colleges tuition up to 60 credit hours for graduating high school seniors.

The last-dollar scholarship program that covers tuition expenses not covered by federal aid rolled out last fall at 25 Bexar County high schools, chosen because of their high concentration of economically disadvantaged students and low rates of college attendance. Next fall, students at 20 more local schools will become eligible for the program.

Close to 10,000 students were eligible for the program in its first year. At the end of the day on Feb. 14, more than 8,000 students took the first step to “save their seat,” or indicate interest in the program.

East Central High School was the campus with the most students to reserve a place. The majority of senior classes at most participating high schools also signed up for the program. The lowest participation level came from Young Women’s Leadership Academy in San Antonio ISD, where just 10 students signed up for Alamo Promise. YWLA’s senior class is small and the school has one of the highest college-going rates in the city.

A list of Alamo Promise pledges by district and school accounted for on February 14, 2020. Credit: Courtesy / Alamo Colleges

Not all students who signed up are likely to attend one of the Alamo Colleges campuses, but students had to take the first step to reserve a spot. Alamo Colleges officials estimate about 3,000 students will enroll in the fall.

East Central High School senior Sabrina Martinez saved her seat, but is still not positive that she will be one of those final enrollees. Martinez was accepted to Texas Lutheran University, but took the first step with Alamo Promise to maintain a “safety net,” she said.

“I want to be a music educator and Texas Lutheran is still my main plan, but I’m also looking into Palo Alto College and San Antonio College because they also have great instructors,” Martinez said.

The tuition-free education is attractive to Martinez and many of her peers. Classmate Malachi Mercado wants to study architecture but knows his education could be costly. His family’s income puts him out of reach of having federal or state aid pay for his studies, so he was glad to learn Alamo Promise would extend across income brackets.

Now, Mercado’s plan is to get a two-year associate degree in architecture and figure out how to continue his education from here.

Students who saved a spot now must complete two additional steps by March 20 to qualify as an Alamo Promise student. They need to file for financial aid with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) and apply to one of the Alamo Colleges.

As of this weekend, Alamo Colleges has secured just over $4.5 million in private funding to support the program. Some of this money came from large donations, including $1.5 million from the Charles Butt Foundation, $500,000 from Toyota, and $200,000 from Santikos. Alamo Colleges Chancellor Mike Flores told trustees in January that the community college system would need to raise $18 million in private philanthropy over the program’s first 10 years.

The overall cost of the program over the first five years will be $122 million, but the majority of the money, $88 million, will come from federal financial aid. Alamo Colleges committed to cover $11 million of the remaining cost and asked the City and County to do the same.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.