Texas A&M-San Antonio vice president of student affairs, Dr. Melissa Mahan, congratulates Richard Acosta, Jr. and his family on Richard's college acceptance. Photo by Bekah McNeel
Texas A&M-San Antonio vice president of student affairs, Dr. Melissa Mahan, congratulates Richard Acosta, Jr. and his family on Richard's college acceptance. Photo by Bekah McNeel

Richard Acosta, Jr. received the first-ever acceptance letter to Texas A&M-San Antonio’s (A&M-SA) four-year degree program on Friday, Feb. 5. The letter was delivered in person by A&M-SA administrators and mascot, General the Jaguar, to Acosta at Harlandale High School. 

It was a monumental event for both Acosta and for A&M-SA. For Acosta, the acceptance is a major step toward achieving his academic goals. For A&M-SA, the expansion of their program to include freshmen and sophomores fulfills a the university’s ultimate goal: to bring a four-year degree program to San Antonio’s Southside.

“It’s all about access,” said Melissa Mahan, A&M-SA’s vice president of student affairs.

The university received $11 million from the Texas Legislature to fund the expansion.

The Acosta family meets General the Jaguar, Texas A&M-San Antonio's mascot. Photo by Bekah McNeel.
The Acosta family meets General the Jaguar, Texas A&M-San Antonio’s mascot. Photo by Bekah McNeel.

The need for a four year program in the area speaks to competing values in the community. Acosta represents the unique blend of ambition and values that have, up until now, presented a dilemma for high achieving students in San Antonio. He is a good student with a healthy resume of extracurriculars. He also wants to stay close to home.

Acosta plays for the Harlandale High School varsity baseball team. He’s involved with student council, and loves AP-Biology. He already knows he wants to study something in the forensics field.

At the same time, Acosta has a little sister who is not even two years old, and he wants to be around while she grows up.

“I don’t want to miss all of that,” said Acosta.

He considers his mother to be his primary motivator, and his family is committed to his success.

“We’re here to support him,” said Geraldine Acosta, his mother.

Neither of Acosta’s parents finished college, and they have always stressed the importance of a bachelor’s degree. They want their kids to have more opportunities than they’ve had, but also to understand that success doesn’t end with the open door.

“It’s not the opportunity, it’s what you do with it,” said his father, Richard Acosta, Sr.

It’s easy to see why this support system is so important to the high school senior, now set to make family and institutional history.

At A&M-SA Acosta Jr. can study criminology in the very community where he plans to invest his life. When he considers the prospect of being part of the first class of four-year graduates, he’s excited. While he applied to other schools in the region, he feels like A&M-SA has abundant potential.

“This school has the chance to be something special,” he said.

Acosta will not be alone at A&M-SA. He is one of more than 450 students who will be admitted as freshmen for the fall of 2016. Many of those will be from Harlandale.

“We have a great partnership with Harlandale High School,” Mahan said.

A&M-SA has worked hard to enlist partners on both sides of the pipeline. Employers like Toyota are interested in seeing the skilled workforce grow on the Southside, and area public schools like Harlandale HS are working hard to connect students to colleges and universities where they are likely to succeed.

The need is clearly demonstrated in the application numbers. Of the 3,580 applications received so far for fall 2016, 3,304 of those are for the freshmen class.

“Members of our faculty, staff and leadership have been working toward this pathway to prosperity before the day our doors opened, and we are honored to award the first acceptance to Richard for his hard work and efforts throughout his educational career,” stated A&M-SA President Cynthia Teniente-Matson in a press release.

With low tuition, ample scholarships, and career alignment the university has already been growing rapidly. In its seventh year as a stand-alone university, A&M-SA has 4,600 students, all juniors and seniors. Now that freshmen and sophomores will be joining them, the campus will need to expand into its nearly 700 acres.

In his four years at A&M-SA, Acosta will likely see many of these expansions. The university will continue to grow, but he and his family take great pride that he will always be the first freshmen admitted. His father feels that special designation bodes well for Acosta’s future.

“As long as the school is there, he’s going to be the first,” he said. “It’s not the end, it’s just the beginning.”

*Top image: Texas A&M-San Antonio vice president of student affairs, Dr. Melissa Mahan (second from right), congratulates Richard Acosta, Jr. (center) and his family on Richard’s acceptance into A&M-SA as the school’s first freshman. Photo by Bekah McNeel.

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.