Only have a minute? Listen instead
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

South Texas College has announced a tuition assistance program that officials say should make enrollment there essentially tuition free for all students. Such a program can help many Rio Grande Valley residents attain academic degrees or professional training and certification they might not be able to afford otherwise.

Officials from STC and local government, business and social organizations recently held a public event to launch the Valley Promise program for Hidalgo and Starr county students. It’s intended to cover tuition and fees, allowing students to attend the college without those direct costs. It is an endowed program, funded by foundations and community groups that have invested more than $1 million to help cover any tuition and fees that remain after scholarships and other traditional financial aid allotments have been applied.

South Texas College held an event Thursday, April 4, 2024, to launch its Valley Promise program. The tuition assistance program for Hidalgo and Starr county students is intended to cover tuition and fees, allowing students to attend STC without those direct costs. (Courtesy: South Texas College/Facebook)

The program is scheduled to begin next year and students are asked to sign a pledge committing to the college during their senior year in high school. STC officials expect 500 students to participate in the program initially, and expand as more students and schools sign on.

It’s no secret that the cost of higher education has skyrocketed, much faster than the rate of inflation overall. Community colleges such as STC aren’t immune to such cost increases, even as they offer a much more affordable resource compared to four-year universities. That lower cost, however, helps the college provide this kind of tuition assistance program with much less funding from the contributing agencies and foundations.

Even with that reduced cost, many students in low-income areas such as our Valley still find it difficult to afford higher education, or the professional training and certification programs that help many people pursue better careers in areas beyond traditional liberal arts and four-year degree programs. Community colleges are known for helping people qualify for jobs in countless disciplines ranging from air-conditioning and mechanics to nursing and office careers, normally within two years. Many students also use the colleges as a more affordable way to earn credits for core degree courses such as English and math during their first two years of matriculation before transferring to four-year universities, although STC also offers bachelor’s degrees in some nursing, business and computer technology disciplines.

Professional training programs make community colleges a vital part of a community’s social and economic development. They help build a better educated workforce and often establish training cooperative agreements with local businesses that help provide skilled workers those businesses need. Such an asset can help attract new businesses looking for a home where such workers and programs are available.

STC, and the organizations that have signed on as benefactors, deserve our gratitude for making an investment that can pay off greatly by helping more students build better lives, and local businesses to find better workers. Success in this endeavor could offer a blueprint that other institutions can use to help more students defray the ever-rising cost of achieving higher education or job skills.