Parchment + Quottly: How We are Turning Credentials Into Opportunities, Together
Dr. Rebecca De Leon, Associate Vice President for Dual Credit Programs and School District Partnerships at South Texas College, joins us as one of the leading advocates for Dual Enrollment, with a long track record of Dual Enrollment success at South Texas College to increase access and opportunity for learners. We discuss the positive impacts of Dual Enrollment, how to grow your Dual Enrollment program, and how to introduce more effective learner pathways.
Matt Sterenberg (00:01.546)
All right, I’m here with Dr. Rebecca DeLeon. Rebecca, thank you so much for joining us. So the episode that we’re talking about today is why you should care about dual enrollment. So why should people care about dual enrollment?
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (00:18.562)
Thank you so much for the invitation. Dual enrollment is a key player to success for students in high school and their matriculation into higher education. I am a product of dual enrollment, so to me it’s very close to my heart because I myself completed 17 credit hours while in high school and have the benefit of then being a semester ahead once I transferred over to the university. So it is a key impact for students, for their families, and overall success for the communities as well.
Matt Sterenberg (00:48.642)
So Dr. Leon, you’re the associate vice president for dual credit programs and college partnerships. Sorry, let’s take that again. School partnerships. Dr. Rebecca DeLeon, you are the associate vice president of dual credit programs and school partnerships at South Texas College. So reading up on the work that you’re doing at South Texas College.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (01:01.304)
Matt Sterenberg (01:17.802)
You have so much going on. So just tell us about your role in general and the work that you’re doing at South Texas College.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (01:25.782)
Definitely. So we have been a pioneer for dual credit here at South Texas College. For over 20 years we’ve been offering the program and it has grown throughout the years. We currently have this past spring over 11,000 students that were enrolled. Just like many institutions, we felt the impact of the pandemic. And so we’ve been working very closely with our 21 school district partners. We have 70 high schools that we work with.
And each and every day we’re out there, my team is amazing. I have over 30 staff that support from enrollment to advising to all the key components for student success. And why is that important? Because that helps the student understand while in high school that college is an option. Let’s get it going, let’s get that head start for students. And so what we’ve incorporated here at the college since 2000 is we waive tuition. It’s board approved policy, we waive tuition for the districts that sign an agreement with us.
And there’s no fees associated for students either. So it’s a win-win for their parents, for the students, to get that jump start.
Matt Sterenberg (02:27.918)
how did you get them to convince waiving tuition? Like what, because that’s a bit, funding is a big, every state does it differently, and then you have these unique agreements with community colleges and local school districts or four years, how did you make that case? Because it’s a ton of resources that you’re pouring into this, and you’re not getting any tuition dollars from it. How did you go about doing that?
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (02:37.497)
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (02:53.906)
So I’m blessed that the administrator who was here at the time, Mr. Nick Gonzales, who has now retired, mentored me coming into my role over five years ago. And one of the key pieces he told me, it was tough. It was difficult even convincing not only the school districts, but also within the communities that high school students can take college classes and you really think that they’re ready.
And so he shared with me the stories and the impact that he had to go meeting by meeting, high school by high school. And then on the other side, it was our board of trustees here at the institution, the administration, the president, and the buy-in overall from faculty. And so he let me know it wasn’t easy, but it came down to the support of our president and the board of trustees who made the decision for the tuition to be waived, so it is in policy.
And then from there to seeing the growth, but overall seeing the impact. And since May of 2020, we are the only accredited program in the state of Texas through the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, NAISAP. So to us, that’s a milestone because there’s a lot of criticism that happened, especially for the classes taking place at the high school sites by teachers that go through the same credentialing approval.
as a full-time faculty at the college teaching here at our colleges or campuses at STC. And so through that, we’ve also received the accreditation, which to us, it’s a stamp of approval saying we are offering quality rigor, quality courses at the high school sites with approved high school college teachers. So there’s a lot that has to be done. It’s not easy, but there’s a lot of key pieces and milestones along the way.
that help to validate and provide opportunities for students in the community.
Matt Sterenberg (04:44.306)
I have a theory about the funding that they approved it. They were like, and then you just made it too successful. They’re like, yeah, you know, go ahead, make it free. And then you were too successful. And then they’re like, oh no, what have we done? We can’t go back on it, but now too many students are taking advantage, you know, that type of thing.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (04:56.894)
I’m gonna go to bed.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (05:02.354)
But you know, honestly, it takes the buy-in. It’s a buy-in from all areas because even the faculty, at first I would hear stories of faculty, what do you mean I have to go to a high school campus to teach a college class? And now it’s like, I love it. I just had a training with over 120 of them to kick off the academic year. And it’s that dialogue, that communication, but mostly that support, especially from our department. You know, what are…
practices that we can help. What can we relay to the school districts? How can we enhance the program to help and ensure that we’re staying up to date, but overall that all key stakeholders have that feedback being provided to us to enhance each and every day our program for success.
Matt Sterenberg (05:45.438)
And I’m glad you brought up the NAISP piece and being accredited. The only, uh, are you still the only co- okay. So you’re still the only NACEP accredited college in the state of Texas. And we will, this is a plug for a future episode, which will be with Amy Williams from NAISP. So, uh, stay tuned for that. But were you getting that feedback? Cause you brought up the, the criticism of are these courses, the same quality, the same rigor?
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (05:52.198)
Matt Sterenberg (06:15.306)
Were you getting that feedback from the community or where was the pushback? Or were you just trying to get ahead of, you know, wanting to ensure for yourselves that there was quality and rigor in the courses.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (06:26.994)
So if you look up research that has been done, it was across the state, it was local, there’s been criticism that can a high school student truly take a college-level course and that it’s not being watered down. And so with that, when I came into my role five years ago, our president at the time, I remember her sitting me down and saying, Rebecca, this is something that our institution needs. It’s going to validate. It is a lengthy process. However, we know we already have it in place.
And so for us, it’s a milestone. It was a celebration in 2020 receiving that accreditation because it validated what we as an institution have been saying for years that the courses being offered at the high school sites by our approved high school teachers which we reference as dual credit faculty, are teaching to the quality and rigor. They have to go through professional development. They have to follow the same curriculum and requirements of their courses. So all of that being validated.
help to go ahead and as we continue moving forth in those conversations, let anyone who has any doubts know that our program is to the highest level of quality and rigor that a college course or any college courses and overall programs should be.
Matt Sterenberg (07:39.498)
I think it’s just a huge, it’s not to me just about quality and rigor. When I think about accessibility, in order to make concurrent enrollment, dual credit, dual enrollment accessible, the easiest way to do that is at the high school campus, right, instead of having to drive to a college campus or worry about online education, or if you can get them where they are, right, you can get to your audience.
that expands who you’re able to give access to. So I think kind of like a byproduct of the quality in rigor is that you’re actually increasing access in a way.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (08:19.238)
You’re definitely right. And one of the key pieces, and we were one of the key pioneers in this area too, was early college high school programs. This is a designation that high schools in the area apply with Texas Education Agency. And many states now are also starting to expand. So what that entails is a high school student, not only making sure these are students that apply to these campuses and their high school campuses.
but they are mostly your at-risk first generation students. And they go through a selection process for these students. And the reason I’m noting this is because these are our students that many times their families are not educated yet. They may not have the experience to say, how can I help my son or daughter to get through that pathway to know how to begin the process for higher education? So this is what the state has brought about through these early college high schools and P-TECH programs. We have over 40 that we partner with.
And what we do as an institution of higher ed is we partner with these school districts and we help these students to start earning, whether it be up to 15 credit hours, core completion, but we have over 1,300 that graduated this past May with a credential. And our institution has a graduation just for dual credit students, three ceremonies, if you can imagine, at an arena, and their families are there, tears of joy, the yelling, the happiness.
It’s the moment that reminds me exactly why I’m doing what I do every day. Because this is a difference we’re making in our communities to ensure that students know that higher education is an option for them.
Matt Sterenberg (10:01.858)
So I think that’s the really cool thing about what you’re doing at South Texas College is that it’s not just about accumulating credits. You have a focus on the student and the learner. So just reading off what you’re doing, you have your standard dual credit, right? Your basics, dual credit courses. You have a CTE pathway, like career pathways for students where they’re gonna earn a certificate or a degree of some sort.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (10:21.17)
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (10:25.939)
Matt Sterenberg (10:30.878)
you have the early college side, which they’re earning potentially an associate’s degree during high school. So why is that associate’s degree? Why is that credential? Why was that such an important component beyond just the dual credit, dual enrollment piece?
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (10:50.022)
because the true vision of it and coming from this state was providing this opportunity for students while they’re in high school, whether it be our early college students or those students that are your high achieving that are saying, I’m ready for that next challenge. So we have all types of students, whether it be your high achieving or those that may have been more at risk, and we’re hitting all populations, whether it be a student even that comes and tells a counselor or my advisors from dual credit.
I don’t think academic track is for me, but I’m really interested in welding. They can earn a certificate, they can complete up to their associates in welding and go right out to the workforce. So that’s a key vision and what we’ve made sure to follow in our goal set is helping students to identify a pathway, taking the courses that lead them to a certificate or an associate’s degree track. And I’m blessed that our team is amazing. We have a team of advisors that are out at the high schools day in and day out.
helping students and guiding them, select your pathways, let’s see what path, and we know we hear it a lot and they’re like, how can a 15 year old student determine their major? I know, I remember when I was in college, I changed it a few times. But we can help them and navigate, maybe it’s core completion, maybe it’s starting them with that certificate that will help them to upon graduating high school to start into the workforce. But it’s helping them and guiding them to know that there’s options available for them to earn a degree of higher education, within higher education.
Matt Sterenberg (12:13.354)
I think that’s interesting because we often, dual credit, dual enrollment is framed up as preparing you for college. Well, what’s the purpose of college? It’s to get me to that professional opportunity or whatever it may be. And sometimes I think we lose sight of it’s, well, what about college is valuable? What am I ultimately trying to get to? And it’s to prepare people for having gainful employment, to be successful, to be happy.
And if we just think about the accumulation of credits, I think we’re doing a disservice and you’re focused on pathways and thinking about how can we get these people on a credential path, whatever it may be, because it’s solving one of the biggest issues, which is some college, no degree, some college, no credential, right? And if we only focus on dual enrollment, dual credit, that could still be the case. And so thinking about a pathway, which is still hard as you mentioned for a 15 year old.
Did you grow up wanting to be an associate vice president of dual credit programs?
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (13:15.914)
No, not at all. And I laugh, I think back and it’s neat. I now had my dual credit faculty who taught my classes when I was a high school student and I reflect back on it. And they’re teaching, you know, they’ve continued here teaching through the college and I laugh and I say I reflect back and I didn’t even think higher education was an option for a career. Looking back as 16, 17 year old, I wanted to go into the medical field or I thought I wanted to be a college golf coach because I had played
off when I was in college and you know life has a path for you and you learn along the way and the impacts that it has and that’s why I always you know one of the key things my leadership and dual credit and my team and I what we say is we are the first experience that a high school student is seeing of a college we are the staff members that are coming up to them and telling them hey did you know South Texas College has this opportunity so how we present it is how
it’s going to be ingrained in their minds. You know what? This is a great opportunity. Let me learn more. And so I think that’s exactly what impacted me as a dual credit student. And I’ve done a complete circle as I’ve reflected in life throughout the years. And I absolutely love the impact that this program has. And it’s like you’re saying, for some it may be a few hours that they’re looking, their basics, their core, but for others it’s transforming, you know, their lives with an associate’s degree. We just had a success story from a student.
letting us know they just got into law school. And they’re in their early 20s. We have many medical doctors that come back and speak to our students, letting them know. I had the pleasure of being invited to a white coat ceremony for one of our students in their early 20s, admitted into medical school, they’re already in their third year. And so these are the stories and the impacts that we want to ensure our communities know because a lot of times we hear, well, are you sure dual credit? No, there’s other options, why even start?
It’s too much for my son or daughter. And maybe it might be, it may not be for everybody. But at the end of the day, it’s truly impacting our communities. And I know personally that had, you know, that experience for myself.
Matt Sterenberg (15:24.01)
You brought this up of just how important the partnership side is, right? And making sure that you have buy-in from all the school districts. How do you, so the school districts have a problem with the credentialing of the teachers, right? And that’s always a challenge for any dual enrollment program, right? How do we actually make this happen at scale? How do we get them to buy into our vision? And then there’s gotta be best practices throughout.
Right? How do we continue to evolve and grow and just build trust with these school districts? What types of things are you doing on a regular basis to continue to build those partnerships with the school districts you support?
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (16:05.246)
Definitely, and one of the key pieces in my role within my leadership, I’ve always believed and I cannot stand when I hear, well it’s always been done this way. When I first came into my role, that’s what I would hear a lot, well that’s how it was done. But to me, it’s continuous involvement and it’s going to continue to evolve along the way. So one example I can share and you were talking about the credentialing.
So we’ve seen our partnering districts, they are seeking for more high school teachers that have the credentials because then they’re at the classroom with the student day in and day out. And that’s how I, when I took my classes, like I shared, I had two high school teachers that were dual credit faculty that taught my biology and my English. And so what we did, because we received a lot of feedback from the districts, yes, there’s some grant opportunities that the state has released and we’ve partnered to increase the credential completion.
But we were being asked, how do we know how to prepare for interviews? We go to the interview, we’re very nervous for some high school teachers. They haven’t interviewed in over 10 to 15 years and now they’re like, should I go into teaching at a college level? We created a workshop for actually hosting our third one this month. It’s prepared to become a dual credit faculty. I have over 116 teachers that will be here next Saturday morning. And it’s a half a day. And I have from our human resources department.
Our program chairs will provide best practices of how to prepare for interviews, or even if they don’t have a credential yet, they have the opportunity to learn of what credentialing requirements they may need. So all around it’s a great opportunity. So to me in my role and working with my team, feedback is important from our school district partners. That relationship is very important to know where are the gaps and how can we improve? Where’s the needs? And so that really has been my focus and my leadership is.
No program is perfect, but how can we continue to strive and see where the gaps are and how can we improve? So that’s just one example that I can share that we’re seeing the need of high school teachers that have the credentials and are prepared to teach. And this is where we came about and we’re excited next week, almost 120, that will be here with us to learn more of this specific area.
Matt Sterenberg (18:13.806)
That’s incredible that you have that much interest and that many teachers willing to join you on a Saturday to go through this.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (18:17.589)
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (18:22.283)
morning for four hours.
Matt Sterenberg (18:25.474)
But you know, it’s gotta be validating for them. You know, if I was a teacher and I was able to say, like, I’m teaching college level courses, and I think that’s part of the benefit of the NACEP accreditation too, is like it gives people confidence that what we’re doing is real. And so I think it has benefits, not just for the student, but for the faculty.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (18:47.87)
And if I can also add, for instance, part of our NACEP requirement is professional development for our dual credit faculty. And so this past Saturday, we had them here with us all morning. We had over 250 teachers here, our dual credit faculty receiving training. And it’s training that’s either course or discipline specific. And we’ve even, we know times have changed and working with our professional development partner here on campus, our department, they were telling me, Rebecca, we need something on mental health for our teachers. This session was full.
instantly because it’s true all the impacts you know yes we can focus but what about the mental health for our teachers our faculty how can they help the students so we incorporated that this year and feedback is key because we received it they’re like we’ve been hearing these are key topics and areas how can they deal with stress how can they deal with the everyday i said let’s do it and it was well received and so i think that’s a key piece as you were asking me earlier how do we continue these partnerships how do we keep our teachers motivated
A lot of it is through feedback. We really ask and see, let us know, and I always tell our team, let me know what’s going on at the schools. I love to be out there because you hear firsthand how to enhance a program and continue having it move forth towards success.
Matt Sterenberg (20:00.994)
So you’ve talked about the importance of pathways, students having an idea of where they want to go. And obviously, in order to uncover that, you really have to have solid advising. And that’s not easy to scale because you can’t just set up a questionnaire or a form. You have to have relationships with these students. You have to guide them through it.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (20:04.881)
Matt Sterenberg (20:27.71)
And I see that as one of the difficulties of really navigating all this, because you have to have an advisor on, on your team, on the high school side. Tell us about how you make that advising really impactful at the high school level for the student and then obviously on your end as well.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (20:46.974)
Definitely. So what we have done as an institution, and I’m we’re very fortunate that our administration has really assisted in providing additional staff to support advising. So I have a department specifically dual credit academic pathways. This is a staff of close to 10 staff members and they are assigned their respective high schools. And then I now a couple of years ago, we reassessed and said, you know what? We also need to focus on career and technical pathways. So I have a separate staff.
that focuses on that area as well. And so the vision in mind of what we do is the counselors at the high school, yes, they’re day in and day out with the students, but they also have other roles and responsibilities aside from dual credit. So it becomes a collaboration. So our team will work with them and assign days for advising, whether it be group advising, whether it be individual advising, and they can be out there a whole week or up to three days, just depending. And we have degree audits that are being conducted.
and to make sure that they’re on their pathway in helping the students. So a key piece of the collaboration and the success is working with our partnering school districts. Our team is outstanding. We make sure they have up-to-date training on the pathways and all of the key, whether it be certificate tracks or associate tracks. And then we also even internally, as an additional step, the state released that we needed to have a…
a guide for students and families, and they didn’t provide much insight. It was, you need to have this and it needs to be marketed out. So internally, we created a student guide to completion. So for the state of Texas, they have their endorsements they need to select in the eighth grade. We aligned those endorsements to our certificate and associates pathways. So this is another tool that whether a parent approaches a counselor or my team and says, I’m not too familiar, it’s here available for them.
So one of the key pieces, especially with Pathways, this is a hot topic, whether it be here in the state or whether it be across the nation, is making sure students are taking courses that apply to degrees. So this is something that our institution has really focused on and has close collaboration with the partnering school districts to make it possible.
Matt Sterenberg (22:59.562)
Yeah, that’s really incredible because the, I, I’ve seen some research it’s, it’s qualitative research, but they interview college advisors and they basically said, Hey, we’re getting some of these dual enrollment students. And they’re kind of surprised that it didn’t shorten their time to degree. They’re surprised that it didn’t save them as much money. And in large part, that’s because it, you know, it didn’t align with the, their course scheduling, the sequencing of courses.
And that’s because they just thought more is better for dual enrollment, dual credit, instead of being really strategic about the type of pathway that they were going to pursue.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (23:39.038)
And you bring up an excellent point. So the state also requires us to advise on transferability. And so one of the key pieces, we’re working very closely with our transfer center here at the college. And we’ve had videos that have been created. We created as a department, a padlet. So this has all the resources that students can access. Just scan the QR code, they can access this information. So we also have, aside from the presentations, our teams conducting the advising.
not only just current pathways, but also what are you looking to do next? Let’s make sure it aligns. And then also educating families. This is something that we’re really focusing on and I’m meeting with my team already next week. It’s how can we ensure that parents are being well educated? How can we ensure it’s not just a student because it’s both a student and a parent conversation. And so we’re revamping our presentations to make sure that they also understand the impact. If they start on this pathway…
They finish high school and they decide, you know what, now I want to go this pathway. Those are the concerns. So let’s, if they’re still not sure, let’s look at core completion. Let’s look at other options so that in the end they’re not taking those excess hours that we hear of many stories, unfortunately, that occur.
Matt Sterenberg (24:50.966)
So Dr. DeLeon, I’m gonna leave you with the last word. What else do you want people to know about your program or about dual enrollment specifically?
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (25:03.262)
South Texas College has been a pioneer and continues to be for dual credit. And I can honestly say for any person that may question, can a high school student truly earn college hours? Are they truly successful? Yes, they are. We have and we prove time and time again that our students are successful. I’m a product. I’m a product of dual credit for South Texas College. And take advantage of those opportunities. Reach out to your counselors.
partnering institutions, your colleges, and your surrounding areas to find out more information. Don’t be afraid to take on that challenge. If it’s a student hearing it today, take advantage of those opportunities. We’re here to help and serve any student as a college, so take advantage and know that we’re making a difference in our communities, and it’s a great opportunity for any student, any family to take part in a dual credit program.
Matt Sterenberg (25:58.071)
Dr. Rebecca DeLeon, thank you so much for joining me.
Dr. Rebecca De Leon (26:02.302)