South Texas College developed an
integrated career pathway program
for immigrant students.
entirely clear how they would get students from
one place to the other.
What they came up with was a plan to address
immigrants and the workforce’s needs in two
phases. The first phase is aimed at the students
with sixth-grade education, while building toward
a new career. It offers intermediate ESL in the
context of a career goal the student has already
selected at the beginning—welding, accounting,
health care office certificatesand more.
When they graduate, they have an eighth-grade
literacy level and advanced English-language skills.
Now it’s time for the intensive job training.
Phase two is a dual GED and credit-bearing
job training program. This was a revolution for
the college. Normally, a student couldn’t enroll in
a credit-bearing job certification course without
first attaining a GED.
But Aguirre and the rest of the college leader-
ship implemented the ability-to-benefit program:
What if, in addition to the traditional route, stu-
dents could take a GED class along with two credit
courses? And what if, at the end of the courses,
they are eligible to apply for the Pell grant under
the ability to benefit provision, by passing either
the GED or the two credit courses?
“What’s interesting is that students pass the
credit courses at a higher rate than the GED,”
he says. “It makes sense. You can relate to what
But it doesn’t stop there. Like all pathways, the
credit courses are stackable. Say you are taking
the GED courses along with two credit courses to
become an accounting clerk. Once you finish those
courses, you have your GED and the first credits
towards a certificate.
To get that certificate, you’d have to take
a few more courses. Once you have that certifica-
tion, you could stay a few more semesters and get
an associate degree. And then, you can stay for a
bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership.
This, Aguirre says, is how they are helping
students “scaffold their knowledge.”
The results so far have been impressive.
Ninety-seven percent of participants stick it out
through their courses—not all pass, but most
persist. Since 2011, 70 percent have attained a GED,
75 percent have earned college credits and about
77 percent have either enrolled in a certification
program or have entered employment.
“With our students, even if they pass their GED
or pass those two credit courses and they have to step
away completely—they have a life situation, a new
baby—by then they have a GED they can show their
employer,” Aguirre says. “It’s a big boost. Now they feel
they are capable. All along they were capable but they
didn’t have the means, they didn’t know how to get
there, and there was no one else there to guide them.”