College president describes school’s successes and goals at Hot Potato lecture

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President Robert Vela points to the first-time-in-college three year tracking graph Nov. 17 during the hot potato lecture at Methodist Student Center. Vela said although the state only counts the 11 percent graduation rate as successful, the school counts 74.6 percent of students who not only graduated, but are still enrolled, transferred or dropped out or plan to return later but left in good academic standing as successful. Photo by Katherine Garcia

President Robert Vela points to the first-time-in-college three year tracking graph Nov. 17 during the hot potato lecture at Methodist Student Center. Vela said although the state only counts the 11 percent graduation rate as successful, the school counts 74.6 percent of students who not only graduated, but are still enrolled, transferred or dropped out or plan to return later but left in good academic standing as successful. Photo by Katherine Garcia

Students and faculty celebrate college’s 90-year milestone, discuss plans for the campus.

By Hannah Norman

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

President Robert Vela reported this year’s successes and shared his 10-year plan for this college Nov. 17 at the Methodist Student Center’s Hot Potato lecture.

“First of all, happy birthday to SAC,” Vela said. “We’ve been here 90 years so we’re celebrating our birthday this year.”

A crowd of about 55 listened to Vela’s presentation of this college’s history, demographics and goals for the future.

Vela said he and Jothany Blackwood, the new vice president for academic success, collaborate to provide more opportunities for students to achieve success.

To that end, they are in the process of hiring a new vice president for student success.

This college serves roughly 25,000 students, but all five Alamo Colleges combined serve 65,000, Vela said.

This college has completed a study to project what the college will look like in the next 10 years. The study anticipates a 32 percent growth, or another 10,000 students. In the next 10 years, this college could be well over 35,000 students, Vela said.

“We’re the largest in Texas, and we’re ranked one of the top community colleges in the country,” Vela said. “I think a lot of people have a lot of trust in San Antonio College because it’s been here since 1925.”

Enrollment at this college took a dip in 2014 when residents moved to the northeast and northwest side of town, he said.

However, in the 2015 spring semester, the number of students shot back up to 25,000 so Vela said he is confident in the college’s estimated enrollment.

Seventy-eight percent of students are part time, he said.

“This tells me that a lot of students are coming to school, but they are also trying to balance their personal life, working … perhaps taking care of an elderly person?” Vela said.

This college’s focus includes increasing graduation rates and targeting subgroups that may not be achieving as well.

Currently, this college is at 60 percent Hispanic, 30 percent Caucasian, 8 percent African-American and 5.8 percent categorized as other. Out of the total student population, 48 percent are economically disadvantaged, 48 percent receive financial aid and 12 percent are dual credit. The majority of students who receive help are military veterans.

“We almost serve 3,000 veterans in a year which makes us the second-largest serving aside from University of Texas at Austin,” Vela said.

Currently, females are outperforming men in graduation rates.

“Women are doing very well. They’re graduating. They’re coming to school. They’re on target and for the men — we’re struggling,” Vela said. “Especially men of color.”

Minority males, especially ones with academic disadvantages, are not graduating from this college. They need to be at least even with the females, he said.

Transferring is a still a problem for this college because 80 percent of students say they are going to transfer, yet only 20 percent are actually transferring.

“We don’t want you to simply just transfer, we want you to graduate,” he said. “We want you to take a credential with you, even if it’s a part-time position while you’re working on your baccalaureate degree.”

In the last two years, this college saw an increase from 9.6 to 14.4 percent of students applying for graduation and completing the process. In spring 2015, 4,317 degrees and certificates were awarded to graduates.

Vela invited questions and comments after his presentation. A couple of students voiced their grievances about web drop preventions and signing up for classes.

The college turns off web drop a week before school starts to ensure the college can report their quota of the maximum number of students who have enrolled in classes before the census date ends. This sometimes leads to students being put into other classes because of a lack of students signing up for another class.

“They don’t tell you when you’ve been thrown into another class,” psychology sophomore Alex Kirkwood said. “If I hadn’t checked ACES three weeks before school started, I would’ve shown up on the first day of school like, ‘Why am I in this class?’”

For students who want to drop their class, traveling to campus is inconvenient and confusing when they have to hunt down department heads and professors, Kirkwood said.

“It’s something that needs to be fixed,” Kirkwood said.

Social work sophomore Carolyn Castillo says she finds it hard to tell distraught students there isn’t enough space in the flex classes when they try to register.

“I work in the SAC lab on the seventh floor of the Moody Learning Center, and I don’t know what to tell students when there just isn’t enough room for them,” Castillo said. “But I did like President Vela’s answer to my question.”

The center will continue its series of Hot Potato lectures next spring. The Rev. Johnny Silva, director of the Methodist Student Center, asked students to fill out a survey to suggest speakers on social and political issues.

Call 210-733-1441 for more information.

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