Annette Enriquez works on a jet engine. Annette completed her bachelor's degree from Embry-Riddle University, she'll be pursuing her masters with no college debt. Photo courtesy of Alamo Academies.
Annette Enriquez works on a jet engine. Annette completed her bachelor's degree from Embry-Riddle University, she'll be pursuing her masters with no college debt. Photo courtesy of Alamo Academies.
Dr. Bruce Leslie, Alamo Colleges Chancellor (Photo courtesy of Alamo Colleges)

To his credit, Texas Gov. Rick Perry last year called for Texas colleges and universities to offer a $10,000 baccalaureate degree. Several other governors and state legislators are following this lead, which is driving innovation as many colleges and universities are responding with creative strategies to achieve the goal. In fact, the Alamo Colleges, in partnership with Texas A&M University San Antonio (TAMUSA), were the first institutions of higher learning to offer a bachelor’s degree in Cyber Security at the $10K price.

This is great news for the consumer and for higher education in general. When universities partner with our nation’s low tuition but high quality community colleges, the prospect of offering a number of low-cost baccalaureate degrees is enhanced, as is the likelihood of increased student success.

The Alamo Colleges, recognized as one of the top ten programs in the United States, has been beating this cost point for a number of years by providing a direct path to an associate, baccalaureate and even a master’s degree – for free.

Our successful approach, the Alamo Academies, has over the past twelve years included a close partnership with the City of San Antonio, the region’s school districts, and 100 industry partners. The Alamo Colleges’ program includes IT Security, Advanced Technology and Manufacturing, Aerospace and Nursing; all STEM careers.

Admission to the Alamo Academies only requires passing the Accuplacer exam, a state requirement for Dual Credit entrance. Our high school graduates also earn 34 college credits at little personal cost. Our Board has managed to provide a scholarship for the full tuition and the student also completes a paid internship at one of the partner companies, earning an average of $3,000.

Our industry partners provide a hiring preference to the successful interns after graduation and most importantly, tuition reimbursement programs. About 96 % of our graduates have continued their higher education at either the Alamo Colleges or a regional university through tuition reimbursement or university scholarships, obtained jobs in the focused industries or joined the military.

Typically, the student progresses into the technical field, gains work experience and, as he/she earns additional degrees, progresses into higher fields within the company.  Thus, the program opens opportunities for professional development and growth well beyond the high school diploma and the Advanced Certificate.

Here’s the kicker: the student has no tuition debt.

In fact, students are typically employed at age 17 or 18, open 401K-retirement savings accounts, enjoy full compensation and health benefits and become independent adults. David Crouch, vice president of Toyota San Antonio, says that his company’s 16-year-old interns begin as youngsters and finish as adults.

Let me share the story of Adam and Annette, first-time college students. Both graduated at age 17 from a San Antonio area high school with advanced certificates from the Alamo Academies and received $3,000 for the paid internship at an aerospace company. Upon Alamo Academy graduation, both were employed by Kelly Aviation Center, an affiliate of Lockheed Martin Corporation to maintain jet engines and both quickly completed their associates degree. Adam Arroyo was one of seven (five of whom were Academies’ graduates) promoted to testing multi-million dollar jet engines.

Adam Arroyo works on a Jet Engine. Photo courtesy of Alamo Colleges.
Adam Arroyo works on a Jet Engine. Photo courtesy of Alamo Academies.

Adam is now 24, nine hours from completing his baccalaureate degree in Business from Texas A&M-SA, paid by Lockheed Martin, and working as a financial analyst. His plans include earning a Masters of International Business; again, paid by Lockheed Martin.

Annette, 27, also began her career in jet engine repair, was promoted to Contract Negotiator, and has now completed her baccalaureate degree from Embry-Riddle University. She soon will pursue her master’s degree. All degrees paid by The Alamo Colleges and Lockheed Martin.

Anette and Adam do not have any college debt, and both have 7-9 years of work experience and promotions, baccalaureate degrees and an early start on retirement.

Compare Annette and Adam with the typical 24-year-old who may or may not be close to graduating with a baccalaureate degree, has little work experience – typically multiple minimum wage jobs unrelated to a career goal – and a growing burden of debt.

Annette Enriquez works on a jet engine. Annette completed her bachelor's degree from Embry-Riddle University, she'll be pursuing her masters with no college debt. Photo courtesy of Alamo Academies.
Annette Enriquez works on a jet engine. Annette completed her bachelor’s degree from Embry-Riddle University, she’ll be pursuing her masters with no college debt. Photo courtesy of Alamo Academies.

The Alamo Academies are expediting career placement while concurrently enhancing the student’s learning and earnings, avoiding student debt, taxpayer-supported Pell funds, and creating a crucial pipeline for companies struggling to replace aging employees and expand operations. Everybody wins.

By the way, our IT Security Academy students won the national Cyber Patriot Competition last year and several have been awarded secret security clearances while interning with the Air Force. What a fantastic experience and preparation for a high school student while concurrently earning college credits.

The Alamo Academies, like other innovative, contextual community college programs, provides experiential education, a paid internship, high rather than minimum earnings while completing college, promotions in high demand careers and no tuition debt. Pretty amazing and it trumps a $10,000 degree.

Dr. Bruce H. Leslie has been chancellor of the Alamo Colleges since November 2006. Leslie earned his bachelor’s degree from Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio and master’s degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He earned a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin. Leslie and his wife, Cheryl, are the parents of three children and six grandchildren and enjoy music, walking, boating, theatre and reading.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org