It was fitting last week that when South Texas College graduated its largest ever class, it did so nearly one year after marking its 25th anniversary.

Over 3,700 students graduated earlier this month, with almost 2,000 in traditional degree programs walking the stage on May 18.

South Texas College graduates celebrate receiving their degrees during a ceremony May 11, 2018, at State Farm Arena in Hidalgo. (Courtesy photo)

For context, about 1,400 students graduated last year with an associate’s degree before obtaining their high school diploma, thanks to the dual enrollment program. In 2017, that number was about 720. And the high school students who walked the stage on May 17 contributed to those numbers as over 1,700 high school students obtained an associate’s degree through dual credit.

Another 1,500 students will likely graduate in December, STC president Shirley Reed said.

Considering STC is trying to create a “college-going culture” with future generations investing in higher education, this milestone may indicate that the college is well on its way to accomplishing just that.

“It seems like every time we turn around, we have another record-breaking event,” Reed said.

Early college high schools and college academies that have joined STC’s program have been a major contributor to the increase in graduates.

Dual credit courses are waived for high school students, according to the STC website. The dual credit program started nearly 20 years ago, saving almost $200 million in tuition, Reed said. The courses are not “watered-down” and will adequately prepare students going to universities.

Some of the students who make up the graduating body are high school students juggling extracurriculars on top of their dual credit programs, or parents working jobs to provide for their families.

A parent with a full-time job, McAllen resident Alexis Longoria received an Associate of Arts in Education and was among hundreds who walked the stage this month. However, the flexibility of the courses let her manage her time while obtaining her education. Now she plans to attend the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley for her bachelor’s degree in teaching.

“It gave me a good base to start… like a good foundation,” Longoria said.

Reed said the institution has several programs planned and hopefully implemented.

Apprenticeship for students in their field of study, to gain experience as they undergo their studies, is one such program.

“That’s a big, big push on the horizon,” she said.

Cybersecurity also plays a major part in the modern workforce, and STC is looking to expand in that direction.

STC also prides itself in support students along the way, offering tutoring and advising along the way. More men and women are breaking gender stereotypes with their educational programs.

“Those services go a very long way to help students be successful,” she said.

Whether they transition to a university in state or across the country, “they’re going to be very well-prepared wherever they go,” Reed added.