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New UTPA partnership with South Texas Independent School District focuses on enhanced student success
Posted: 01/23/2009
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Enhanced college readiness and success by Rio Grande Valley students is the goal of a new partnership agreement announced Jan. 22 between The University of Texas-Pan American and the South Texas Independent School District (STISD).

The partnership, titled "Pathways to Success," will provide new programs at the district's four high school campuses designed to ease the transition to and support the success of STISD students in postsecondary education. STISD high schools include South Texas Business, Education and Technology Academy (BETA) in Edinburg, South Texas High School for Health Professions (Med High) and Science Academy of South Texas, both in Mercedes, and South Texas Academy of Medical Technology (Med Tech) in San Benito.

Dr. John Edwards, UTPA vice president for Enrollment and Student Services described the agreement to signing ceremony attendees as historic.

"I know of no other University/school district agreement like this one which provides three avenues or pathways to prepare different cohorts of students for enhanced success at the University," he said. "This University, under both Dr. (Miguel) Nevárez and Dr. (Blandina) Cárdenas, has effectively worked for many years to improve access to higher education but just as important we have promoted in the Valley factors for success because access to higher education without a good chance at success is no bargain."

Signing a new partnership Jan. 22 between UTPA and the South Texas Independent School District to promote college readiness and success is UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas (left) and South Texas Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Marla Guerra (right).
The partnership, which was approved by the STISD Board on Jan. 20, includes a "Summer Start Program" that will provide developmental courses to entering freshmen students who will need this assistance to be eligible to enroll in regular University classes. A "Summer University Prep Program" will provide specially designed short-term courses as well as tutoring, mentoring and career assessment to district identified students who have completed their sophomore year in order to better prepare academically for their remaining years in high school.

Pathways to Success also creates a "South Texas Scholars Program," which will enable high achieving students who have completed their sophomore year in high school and are in the top 25 percent of their class or have a 22+ ACT score or have a 90+ GPA to enroll both in Dual Credit classes at the high schools as well as in Concurrent Enrollment classes on the University campus or via interactive video. Students who complete the required 12 hours of Concurrent Enrollment courses would be eligible to apply to become University Scholars at UTPA and receive a $3,000 a year scholarship.

Edwards said because of the partnerships and programs established over the years by UTPA with Valley schools, students are entering the University more prepared and pursuing not only baccalaureate degrees but are also going on to graduate school to earn master's and doctoral degrees.

"That will impact our Valley in ways that will be difficult for us today to see," he said.

University administrators said they approached the STISD for this collaboration because of its long track record of providing its students excellent preparation for college. STISD high schools consistently rank in the top tier of high schools in the state and nationally. The agreement states UTPA faculty will meet and work with selected STISD teachers who will be hired to provide developmental instruction or as adjunct professors to teach Dual Credit courses on the high school campuses. The initial goal is to start the programs in summer 2009.

"The STISD has a pool of very talented educators who will work with our faculty to put together these programs for the benefit of our students in the Valley. We hope to see increased collaboration on research and increased collaboration on innovative teaching technologies. I think what you will see through this partnership is not just three programs but the enhancement of the opportunities and the access for our students," said Dr. Paul Sale, UTPA provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.

Dr. Marla Guerra, a UTPA alumna and STISD superintendent, said the district is excited about this first "official" partnership with UTPA and for the district's teachers to have the opportunity to plan and collaborate with University faculty to make sure their students are prepared to perform successfully at the university level and to graduate.

"Our ultimate goal is that they come back to the Valley and stay here and give back to the community to make the Valley a better place to live and work," she said.

Presiding over her last signing ceremony as UTPA president before her retirement on Jan. 30, Dr. Blandina Cárdenas said the partnership reflects the great commitment that Valley educators, educational institutions, and districts now have to high quality postsecondary education for its students.

"Over the course of some years we have raised the bar, raised our vision to the notion that it is not about graduating kids from high school but it is about graduating our young people from college and beyond," she said. "The most important thing a leader does is to reshape the belief of what is possible. Once you believe something is possible, you begin to act upon it. I'm delighted to be here today to celebrate our belief that anything is possible. Don't let anyone ever tell you anything else."

For more information of the UTPA-STISD's "Pathways to Success" partnership, contact Dennis McMillan, associate vice president for Enrollment and Student Services, at 956/381-2147 or e-mail dmcmillan@utpa.edu.