SERVING SAC’S BACKYARD A Look at How San Antonio College Is Addressing Issues of Access, Persistence and Completion

An Introduction

Alamo Colleges District – San Antonio College (SAC) has a long, rich history spanning over nine decades. 

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Founded in 1925 under the auspices of the University of Texas, SAC, then    named “University Junior College,” was the first public institution in San Antonio and one of the first community colleges in the state of Texas. 

Throughout SAC’s 90-year history, there have been various trends with enrollment, instruction and delivery. Still, SAC’s goal always remained to educate the citizens it so proudly served. 

Like many community colleges, SAC began to really find its way in the 1960s and developed into the modern “SAC” that is more recognizable today. By the 80s, student enrollment began to grow by the thousands, and the student body started to more closely resemble the overall demographic breakdown of the city. 

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In 1986, SAC became one of the founding members of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) and was named a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), a designation that is proudly still maintained today. 

A New Era

San Antonio College has always been a pillar of excellence for the San Antonio community. Although, the path to college is still not guaranteed for many young people, especially those who are first-generation college students and may not have the familial support at home to fuel the desire of attaining a higher education. 

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Many students—and parents alike—rely on high schools to provide college guidance. Unfortunately, many high school counselors will tell you that there are simply not enough counselors to provide adequate one-on-one support for all students. 

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Knowing these challenges and recognizing the admissions process can be quite daunting for first-time college students, SAC’s new president Dr. Robert Vela created the Office of Outreach & Recruitment and launched the college into a new era. SAC would begin to address the barriers, which at times prevent students from enrolling in college. 

In May 2015, San Antonio College opened the Tino & Millie Duran Welcome Center, a state-of-the-art Center that serves as a one-stop location assisting prospective students with a slew of enrollment and registration services. The open-concept facility creates a friendly environment and follows the anticipatory customer service model used by Apple. 

“Time and time again, we hear that students, especially those in our own feeder schools, are not considering coming to SAC, or any college for that matter,” Vela said. “They believe that going to college—even a community college like SAC—is simply too far out of reach,” he continued. “It was clear to me that it was up to SAC to change that perception.” 

Find Your Future

In September 2016, San Antonio College launched a new initiative called Find Your Future (FYF), which aimed to provide strategic outreach for students in SAC’s “backyard.” 

SAC’s “backyard,” a colloquial term coined by Vela, references the students in SAC’s immediate geographic area and within SAC’s main feeder schools. Although SAC serves a diverse community, the majority of the students who attend SAC (more than 60 percent) are of Hispanic descent. 

Coordinated by the Office of Outreach & Recruitment, the Find Your Future Tour, which took place throughout the Fall 2016 semester, included five stops at various high schools throughout the city and reached more than 3,000 high school seniors.  

The tour featured a one-hour keynote speech by nationally renowned motivational speaker Roy Juarez, Jr. As well, each tour stop incorporated a short presentation from a SAC recruiter about how to apply to college.

More than providing a simple informational session about “HOW” to apply to college, the FYF Tour’s goal was deeper—to inspire young people and explain “WHY” they should go to college. 

The tour was SAC’s first major effort at redefining the basic college information session. Instead of telling students to meet with a recruiter to apply and get assistance with the enrollment process, the tour offered the added element of inspiration.  

Juarez, a community college success story himself, travels across the country sharing his life story with thousands of people each year. In minutes, magically, he was able to captivate the hundreds of teens in the audience at each of the tour stops. Immediately, his story of overcoming homelessness at the age of 14 drew in the students to hear the message: You can do it. Si se puede.  

Another project, similar to the Find Your Future Tour, focuses on empowering parents. Also initiated by President Vela, the Parent Leadership Academy is a trial program in its first year and partners with several local agencies and the San Antonio Independent School District to demystify college and create informed parental advocates within the community.

Both programs incorporate the same elements of inspiration, education and empowerment. 

Be SAC Proud

As 2016 came to a close, the number of degrees and certificates conferred during the previous academic year reached a dramatic milestone. 

San Antonio College, after 90 years, had awarded an all-time high of 5,032 credentials within the 2015-2016 academic year. 

Surpassing 5,000 for the first time was a welcomed celebration; however, it did not come as a surprise. It is the direct result of numerous efforts by SAC’s dedicated faculty, staff and student body. 

The “Be SAC Proud” initiative was conceived in 2012 to highlight and promote the importance of earning a degree or certificate. A committee convened to develop a marketing plan and execute tactics aimed at building awareness of the importance of earning a credential. Ultimately, it would take the entire college to make the dream a reality. 

When the “Be SAC Proud” campaign originally unfolded, faculty and staff from across the college employed a number of strategies and actions related to the wildly important goal of student success. 

Soon, more and more students began to also take note. Students became enlightened about the benefits of earning a credential before transferring to a partner institution. The plan was working. 

With the help of countless faculty, staff members, current students and alumni, “Be SAC Proud” continues to embolden SAC students every day. 

What started out as a simple marketing ploy has taken its rightful role as an institutional anthem, and indeed SAC is extremely proud; proud to enter into a tenth decade of transforming lives and reinvigorating the San Antonio community. •