Rebecca Marie De Leon was an aspiring student and high school athlete at Mission Veterans Memorial High School when she enrolled in a dual enrollment program in the early 2000s.
The future collegiate golfer was pressed for time in balancing academics and athletics. Dual enrollment, which blends college and high school courses, then grounded her in the need for effective time management.
“It set the foundation for me,” said De Leon, who would go on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from then University of Texas-Pan American, and a doctorate from Lamar University. “Dual enrollment was a jump start for me.”
Coming a long way
De Leon has the distinction of today being the dean of the dual enrollment program that gave her a start into post-secondary education. She is Dr. De Leon, the dean of dual credit programs and school district partnerships for South Texas College. The program has expanded greatly under her watch. It now serves thousands of students at 24 high schools in Hidalgo and Starr counties.
The STC dual enrollment program is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. De Leon, a 2006 graduate of Mission Veterans, is proud of the reach the program has today. She also praises how far it’s come since her high school days. There are 150 dual enrollment courses at the participating high schools. Students can earn an associate degree or a certificate in a technical field while progressing through high school.
Students may take the courses at a STC campus or at their high school. No matter the location, De Leon said instructors have both full training and preparation to teach college courses at the high school level.
“The rigor of the courses is met,” she said of the challenge high school students encounter in enrolling in STC’s dual enrollment program. “High school teachers (in the program) go through the same process and ongoing training as our faculty does.”
High school counselors are an integral part of the program. They go through professional development training in keeping updated as to what dual enrollments offer their students, she said. Partnerships with area school district superintendents are also essential, De Leon said.
Building a foundation
Developing intellects, building credentials, and instilling discipline in academics are all part of the dual enrollment experience. De Leon also says the success stories are many among the graduates.
“We hear stories all the time from alumni who are very successful, and it all started with dual enrollment,” she said. “It helped set their career path just as it did for me.”
De Leon reflected on a recent STC graduation ceremony where 1,900 dual enrollment students were honored for their accomplishments. Seeing the elation of students and their parents was rewarding. It mirrors the feeling of also knowing how much the tuition-free program is saving area families. De Leon said STC’s dual enrollment program has saved $200 million in tuition costs for its students since its inception.
“It’s an honor to give back to my community,” she said of going from a dual enrollment student to the dean of the program.