A ‘Little Push’ Goes a Long Way
Dual Credit Alumna Comes Back to College
As many as 35 percent of Dual Credit grads don’t immediately make the transition to higher ed, which is especially true for first generation college students like Ximena Beas (above). Ximena spent two years after high school on the fence about her college future until South Texas College reached out with a unique admissions plan. STC focuses on breaking through traditional barriers to college and giving students an extra push to persist.
Inspiration can happen in an instant. And for Ximena Beas, who spent two years after high school on the fence about her college future, a single spark of a moment would change everything.
There’s no doubt she was ready. In fact, she already had four college classes under her belt through the South Texas College Dual Credit Programs and was even being offered scholarships by the time she graduated high school. But anxiety about which major to pick and how to afford the experience would hold Beas back – until the College reached out with a streamlined admissions plan.
That fateful call would prove to be all of the inspiration Beas needed.
“They helped give me that little push, like ‘Go, yes, it’s time to do it,’ not for me to wait another semester or another year,” says the grateful Jaguar, who became the first in her family to attend college in the United States. “They were clearing holds and helping me out so I could start as soon as possible because I didn't want to lose the time.”
While STC’s Dual Credit Programs have provided tuition-free college credit to more than 118,000 high school students, there’s still work to be done. The College’s research shows that as many as 35 percent of Dual Credit grads don’t immediately make the transition to higher ed. This is especially true for first-generation students like Beas, who might need extra help overcoming barriers.
That discrepancy was the spark of inspiration for STC’s Dual2Degree Department, which promotes Dual Credit student success with initiatives like the “Back on Track” campaign that uplifted Beas. The program focuses on breaking through traditional barriers to college and giving students that extra “little push” to persist.
“We’re really encouraging them, motivating them, and it really does speak to them."
“What we started doing over the past several years is looking at ways to programmatically accelerate college completion rates among the high school students participating in our Dual Credit Programs,” says Tony Matamoros, Director of Enrollment Services for Dual Credit.
Matamoros reveals that the number of Dual Credit students who did not enroll in college rose to 38 percent last year because of pandemic pressures, rendering the initiative more essential than ever.
Not only has Matamoros worked at STC for a decade and counting, he’s also an alumni of the Dual Credit Programs. So, he’s particularly passionate about helping Dual Credit students reach for their dreams and believes that communication is key.
“We’re very intentional with how we’re targeting these students because they face unique cultural and structural barriers,” says Matamoros. The department reaches out to former Dual Credit grads from as far back as seven years ago. Using postcards, emails and more, they encourage students to attend an enrollment event. As soon as students RSVP, an enrollment rep looks over their records and calls, offering personalized attention to see what students need to prepare.
The magic really begins at the events themselves, which are set up like one-stop shops allowing students to find everything they need in one place. From admissions to advising and financial aid, the event streamlines the enrollment process, making it easy to navigate a higher ed pathway. And though this year’s services happened virtually, the concept remained the same: to provide working students with a fast, flexible and hassle-free way to re-connect with college.
“The idea is that they would leave that day registered with a student picture ID in their hand, and they’re set to go,” says Matamoros.
Even beyond the day of the event, the high-touch support continues as staff follow up with students to ensure smooth sailing to the first day of class.
Now in its fifth year, the initiative has produced some big payoffs. In the last academic year alone, staff have made more than 15,000 contacts with students and parents through more than 500 events at high schools and STC campuses.
So far, 730 former Dual Credit students are signed up and ready to return to college for the next academic year. And, according to Matamoros, more are on the way.
“We’re really encouraging them, motivating them, and it really does speak to them,” says the director, who tries to make personal connections with students and listen to their stories. Those who don’t persist, he explains, either underperformed academically or were derailed by the responsibilities of life. But when the College reaches out, and students discover that graduation is closer than they thought, they are often ready to charge ahead.
For many, that STC call is like a life preserver. “They’re stuck at dead-end jobs,” says Matamoros. “And they realize that a degree is going to get them a better career.”
The stop-out initiative is just one component of the Dual2Degree Department. Next year, the department will roll out the “Jaguar Connection Initiative,” aiming to bring Career and Technical Education high school students to campus.
It’s a “preemptive” approach to help prepare learners for higher ed, says the director.
“They can hear from the faculty, start getting information on financial aid, start thinking about careers and get all of that college knowledge early.”
The Dual2Degree department is an efficient operation, planning events a year in advance with just 14 staff members who reach out to thousands of prospective, current and former students. “This tiny department is moving so fast, and we’re doing so much,” says Matamoros. “It’s our responsibility, and we take it seriously.”
Like the director, most staff are also alums of the Dual Credit Programs. For these true believers, it’s especially satisfying to look back and see just how far Dual Credit has come:
“It's a great feeling to help manage a program for students who are becoming the first in their families to get a college degree,” remarks Matamoros.
For Beas, currently pursuing a Paralegal associate with the goal of one day earning a bachelor’s in history or criminal justice, it’s all about fulfilling her destiny to become the first U.S. college grad in her family. And she knows she won’t be the last because she is encouraging her 12-year-old brother to follow in her footsteps.
“I’ve got to be a role model for him,” says the barrier-breaking student. “He’s like, ‘How are you doing in school?’ And I’m like, ‘Good, so you better do good, too!’”
Looking back, Beas is thankful to South Texas College for continuing to reach out and helping her find her way through higher ed. Further, she credits STC’s persistent outreach for guiding her to the perfect major in Paralegal.
“I wouldn’t have thought of myself doing what I’m studying right now, and I’m really glad I did because it’s a career path that I really like,” says Beas, who’s thrilled to be where she belongs.
“I guess I needed that little push where they were like, ‘Oh, you know, it’s time.’”