ACC Eastside: Making College Real

Giving ACC a presence at East Austin high schools

Sam Guzman
Sam Guzman (Photo by John Anderson)

When AISD trustee Sam Guzman was growing up, his options after high school were limited. "You either went the vocational route, or you joined the service," he recalled. He almost went into the Marines, but a grant allowed him to go to college. Now he's eager to ensure Eastside students have easier access to higher education than he did.

AISD's plan (like much at the yet unnamed Eastside high school, still to be finalized) is not just to give a rhetorical nod to higher education but to give Austin Community College a real presence on campus. Mary Hensley, ACC's vice president of college support systems and ISD relations, said she is "immensely pleased to partner with AISD. It makes good sense, because we serve a similar constituency." The first stage will simply be to increase the number and availability of dual-credit and college-credit Tech Prep courses that ACC provides on campus. Students will get a head start on college, with the additional advantage that all fees and tuition costs will be waived. As with other new school classes, Hens­ley hopes to provide flexibility of hours, possibly offering sessions before and after the school day and even on weekends.

There's also serious consideration of an ACC campus advisory center, giving support with college applications as well as information on student scholarship aid. Hensley hopes the raw data might convince families of the benefits. She explained, "We have found that students who start here and transfer do as well or better than if they had gone straight into a four-year facility."

Guzman hopes a permanent ACC presence will help demystify college, although he worries about a backlash if families feel they are being shortchanged. "There may be some criticism where people are saying, 'Well, you're leading them into an associate degree,'" he said. "We have to explain that it's just another track." This also means offering more applied courses. Guzman asked: "What if a school was preparing graduating students to go into the medical field as technicians? Once they get in there, what's to stop them becoming an M.D.?"

Long-term, both AISD and ACC hope a college presence at the Eastside high might even encourage parents to re-enter education. Yet all this has to be done against the backdrop of demonstrating relevance to an education-skeptical community. Guzman admitted that the district might consider the vocational component of ongoing education and added, "Board members must always think 'college bound,' and maybe that's something we might have to discuss."

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