Featured: Residents of the Delta Area in Hidalgo County, such as these South Texas College students posing in this promotional image at one of its other campuses, soon will be able to take higher-education courses in their home region as a result of state legislation authored in 2015 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.
Photograph Courtesy DIMITRA HERNÁNDEZ
Under state law championed in 2015 by Rep. Canales, South Texas College on Wednesday, December 5, 2018, registered students for upcoming university-level courses designed to eventually lead to STC facility in the Delta Area
A state law authored in 2015 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which required the leadership of South Texas College to create a plan to expand courses leading to associate degrees in Edcouch or Elsa by Fall 2019, took a major step forward on Wednesday, December 5, 2018.
In an announcement made by STC’s Office of Public Relations and Marketing, dated Thursday, November 29, 2018, the regional higher education system stated that it would host a “Registration Round Up in the Delta Area” on Wednesday, December 5, 2018 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Edcouch Elsa ISD Technology Center, located at 200 North Yellow Jacket Drive in Edcouch.
The purpose of the registration round was to showcase available classes, and provide interested community members the opportunity to apply for admission, financial aid, and register for classes.
STC will now be offering courses in the Delta Area, serving the communities of Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, Monte Alto, La Blanca, and Hargill. More information is available by contact STC officials at 956/447-6631.
The Delta Area is connected by East Highway 107 between Edinburg and Weslaco.
Canales was the primary author of House Bill 382, which was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.
Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-La Joya, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville, and Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, supported HB 382 as joint authors.
“The support for HB 382 was documented and widespread, and it sent a very clear message that South Texas College has a responsibility to spread its resources throughout Hidalgo County, just as other major community college systems in Texas, such as Austin Community College, which in 2015 had 11 campuses in a geographic region much smaller than Hidalgo County,” said Canales.
The effort by Canales to bring courses to the Delta Area – of which several of those communities are in his House District 40 – did not come easy.
“I have been working for more than five years to bring a greater South Texas College presence to the Delta Area,” said Canales. “Thank you to (STC President) Dr. Shirley Reed and the STC Board of Trustees for recognizing this need in the Edcouch-Elsa community. We must continue working together to bring greater education opportunities to our community.”
HB 382 states that “the board of trustees of the South Texas Community College District shall adopt and implement a plan expanding opportunity for instructional programs consisting of postsecondary courses leading to an associate degree offered in a classroom setting within the corporate city limits of the municipality of Edcouch or Elsa.”
Canales said he envisions STC eventually establishing a major facility in the Delta Area.
As he did back in 2015 in promoting HB 382, Canales, the House District 40 lawmaker, once more reminded STC officials that STC – formerly known as South Texas Community College (STCC) when it was created by the Texas Legislature in 1993 – began as a branch campus of Texas State Technical College-Harlingen in McAllen.
“As we continue celebrating in 2018 the 25th anniversary of South Texas College, what began as a few buildings in McAllen in 1993 now has major campuses in McAllen, Weslaco, Rio Grande City, and just a couple of months ago, on September 18, 2018, STC launched Phase 1 of a $71 million master plan for the South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence, of which I was a joint author,” Canales said. “This is what HB 382 will bring to the Delta Area in the future, as well as to other major population centers in Hidalgo County.”
STC, which serves all of Hidalgo and Starr counties, generates a significant amount of its operating and construction funds from local property taxes.
Sen. Lucio, during the Monday, May 18, 2015 public hearing on the measure before the Senate Intergovernmental Affairs, addressed the issue of the distances of the majority of Hidalgo County communities from the campuses in McAllen, Weslaco and Rio Grande City.
“In 1993 I authored Senate Bill 251 establishing South Texas Community College (renamed STC in 2004). It opened its doors to just over 1,000 students,” Lucio recalled of that measure, which was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen – and which also made it the only community college in the state created by the Texas Legislature.
“Today, STC is a nationally recognized and award-winning comprehensive college serving over 30,000 students,” Lucio continued. “HB 382 passed overwhelmingly from the House of Representatives and was supported by every member of the Valley delegation. Furthermore, it is supported by a resolution from Hidalgo County and the cities of Edcouch and Elsa. The struggle for higher education in this area is real. The nearest STC campus is 30 minutes away (Weslaco) and given limited access to transportation, Edcouch-Elsa ISD spends over $20,000 a year to provide a limited opportunity for students seeking higher education.”
Although Weslaco has the STC Mid-Valley Campus, located about a dozen miles away from Edcouch and Elsa, that site is land-locked with limited space to expand, Canales reflected.
STC features the Pecan Campus in McAllen, Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco and Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City, which offer traditional college programs. The Nursing Allied Health Campus and the Technology Campus in McAllen provide specialized training for students entering the workforce. In addition, STC has Workforce Training Centers at the Technology Campus and the Mid-Valley and Starr County campuses.
“The Pecan Campus in McAllen, which is the northernmost campus of STC, leaves huge areas of Hidalgo County with long commutes to attend classes,” Canales said. “A greater STC presence in the Delta Area shall serve not only the students from the Delta Area but also from Edinburg, and would prepare STC for the future. Northern Hidalgo County is expected to grow rapidly over the coming years.”
Canales emphasized that he is a very strong supporter of STC, its faculty, staff and students, crediting them with lifting tens of thousands of Hidalgo and Starr county residents into the middle-class, while their respective campuses in McAllen, Weslaco and Rio Grande City – and as of this Fall, the South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence in Pharr – have brought civic pride, economic development, and job creation to those respective communities.
Requiring STC in 2015 to expand in the Delta Region came as the two-county higher education system began spending almost $160 million for new construction, narrowly approved by voters, at its existing campuses.
That funding, which was supported in the bond election by the Delta Area, included construction in only one new location – Pharr – while STC’s existing campuses and sites in Rio Grande City, McAllen, and Weslaco received most of that money.
According to STC, the November 5, 2013 bond election, which featured two propositions, was to have the following impact:
Proposition 1 authorized the issuance of $159 million in bonds for construction and equipping of college buildings. It passed with a vote of 11,642 to 9,503.
The $159,028,940 million in bonds were designed to pay for the construction and equipping of 564,548 sq. ft. of new classrooms, science and health care teaching labs, and technical training facilities at all STC locations. Renovation of some existing space, parking lots, roadways and infrastructure were included.
The new funding from the bond election were to be used for existing campuses, but also included $4 million for the South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence in Pharr.
Proposition 2 authorized an additional 3 cents maximum increase in the tax rate for the maintenance and operation of STC to accommodate increased student enrollment and expanded facilities. It passed with a vote of 11,167 to 10,118.
The November 5, 2013 vote was the first for the college since September 2001, when voters approved $98.5 million to support continued growth and services through enlarged and improved facilities. Since then the college’s enrollment numbers have increased by more than 18,000 students to over 31,000 students in Fall 2014.
SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE CONFERS MORE THAN 2,000 DEGREES AT DECEMBER 1, 2018 COMMENCEMENT
As first-generation college students, siblings “José Ángel García and Aimee Castro say that they took the scenic route on the way to receiving a diploma from South Texas College.
Graduating at the same time and with the same bachelor degree in Organizational Leadership on Saturday, December 1, 2018, García and Castro say they motivated each other to succeed even when life got in the way.
“All sacrifices are well worth it to show your children it’s never too late to make a change and get an education,” García said. “I owe it to the mindset I had because I knew it could be done no matter what age I was.”
García said he graduated high school in 1999 but opted to forgo college in order to begin his career and start a family. An expert with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), García said he came back to school to further his career.
He returned to STC in 2014 and over the course of four years received an Associate Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.
Castro, who is currently an administrative assistant with STC’s President’s Office-External Affairs, said she began her career working for more than a decade as a state employee but became a stay-at-home mother in 2014 once her children were born.
“I realized right away that the college was here to support me in any way possible so I could succeed,” said Castro. “Once my brother and I had that leverage that enabled us to succeed, all that was left was just the willingness of the heart to go and get the degree we wanted.”
STC conferred 2,194 degrees in two ceremonies on Saturday, December 1, 2018. The college awarded 182 Bachelor’s degrees, 581 degrees from the Business, Public Safety, and Technology Division, and 398 from Nursing and Allied Health. STC is among only a handful of two-year higher education institutions in Texas which also offers Bachelor Degrees to students.
During the afternoon ceremony, STC conferred 872 degrees from the Division of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, and 161 graduates from the Division of Math and Sciences.
“This is the day we honor you, our graduates. We are here to celebrate your graduation from South Texas College. All of us at South Texas College, the Board of Trustees, our outstanding faculty, staff and administration all join me in extending this welcome,” STC President Shirley A Reed told graduates.
“Graduating from a college or university is an honor few receive,” Reed said. “Many of you are the first in your family to earn a college degree. That dream and the desire to go to college is appreciated by all of us here.
“We were there to support you on your journey to graduation, and we all know that it wasn’t an easy journey. There were lots of trials and tribulations, but you persevered and you are here celebrating your graduation,” Reed said. “We are very proud of each and every one of you.”
Also at graduation, Graciela Díaz and her son Nick Arredondo both celebrated achieving their Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Organizational Leadership at the same time. Díaz said she is especially proud of her son, who comes from a family of migrants on his father’s side, to be the first in their family to graduate college.
Arredondo said the experience of finishing his degree with his mother brought them closer together despite each having full-time jobs.
“My mother is not only my parent, she’s my motivator,” Arredondo said. “We helped each other with our homework and we studied together. Even though we had eight to five jobs, I would still go to her house, we would have dinner, and we just bonded through that.”
“My husband is really proud of Nick because he is the first one from their migrant family to graduate,” Díaz said. “It was never in their vision, for them it was always about working in the fields but his grandfather would always tell them that they had to go to school.”
Faces in the crowd
Ilissa Valenciana, a former Dual Enrollment Medical Science Academy (DEMSA) student, previously obtained her Associate Degree in Biology and returned to STC to receive her Bachelor’s Degree in Medical and Health Services Management.
“I feel like the hard work paid off. Right now I am teaching and I hope to start in a master’s program in the spring and I will see how that goes for me,” Valenciana said. “To students I would tell them to never give up. No matter how hard it gets, take it day by day.”
Adam Torres is a student veteran receiving his Associate Degree in Biology. Serving eight years in the Texas Army National Guard, Torres says he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, and was inspired by mentors within the US Department of Agriculture once he returned home.
“The veteran services organization here at STC is fantastic, everybody wants to help everybody and you feel like part of a family,” Torres said. “I want to continue my education and hopefully obtain a Bachelor Degree in Micro-Biology, and then maybe one day come back and give back to the college.”
Diana Morales graduated with an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice and plans to transfer to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to obtain a Bachelor Degree in Criminal Justice and Minor in Psychology with the hopes of entering a career with US Customs and Border Protection.
“I loved the environment here at STC and I loved the one on one communication with professors so I decided to finish my degree here,” Morales said. “To future graduates, I would like to tell them that anything is possible with the right mentality and determination.”
The video about the STC commencement is available online at https://news.southtexascollege.edu/families-share-their-experiences-graduating-from-south-texas-college-this-december/
To view or download photos from the commencement, visit https://news.southtexascollege.edu/media-library/
About South Texas College
Founded in 1993, South Texas College is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and offers more than 120 degrees and certificate options, including Associate Degrees in a variety of liberal art, social science, business, match, science, technology advanced manufacturing and allied health fields of study. Additionally, STC is the only community college in Texas to offer four Baccalaureate Degrees. STC has a faculty and staff of more than 2,700 to serve the college’s six campuses, two higher education centers, and one virtual campus.
José Gómez contributed to this article. Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature.