New initiative saves a spot at UTSA for high-achieving SAISD juniors

New initiative saves a spot at University of Texas San Antonio for high-achieving San Antonio ISD juniors

UP Partnership facilitated connection through Equitable Enrollment Collaborative and Future Ready Plan

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) today announced a new pathway that will provide high-achieving students from SAISD high schools with direct admission to UTSA as early as their junior year. The new program aims to remove barriers for SAISD students who want to pursue a college degree, helping them feel confident that they have a top-quality institution secured to pursue their bachelor’s degree once they graduate from high school.

The direct admission program is open to all SAISD students who are in the top 25% of their high school graduating class at the end of their fifth semester—the fall semester of their junior year. UTSA will accept the first cohort of students in Fall 2024.

“UTSA is deeply committed to growing the workforce and positively impacting the economic development of San Antonio by preparing students to succeed in the jobs of the future,” said UTSA President Taylor Eighmy.

“We have enjoyed a strong partnership with SAISD for many years, but this new program is especially exemplary of UTSA’s keen focus on student success and its desire to make higher education more accessible, especially for those from underserved communities.”

Nearly 75% percent of SAISD’s students come from families that are economically disadvantaged.

“We are committed to providing transformational learning experiences for our students, and this partnership with UTSA will help our students more easily access the life-changing tool of postsecondary education,” said SAISD superintendent Jaime Aquino.

“We are proud of this partnership that offers our students exceptional support as they enroll and persist in their studies at UTSA.”

Many SAISD high school graduates who matriculate to UTSA will be eligible for UTSA Bold Promise, a tuition and assistance program for eligible Texas residents with annual household incomes of $70,000 or less. The program covers 100% of UTSA’s tuition and mandatory fees. This financial aid is crucial in eliminating one of the biggest barriers for students striving to obtain a college degree.

“Graduates who earn college degrees are consistently shown to have more career possibilities, higher earnings overall and a better quality of life,” said Lynn Barnes, UTSA senior vice provost for strategic enrollment. UTSA is committed to providing high-quality, affordable education for anyone who wishes to pursue a degree. We’re excited to help the San Antonio ISD students and families understand the educational opportunities available to them and how to make them a reality.”

Last fall, 62% of students ages 16 to 24 who graduated from U.S. high schools were enrolled in colleges or universities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Fall 2019, prior to the pandemic, the college enrollment rate in the United States was 66%.

SAISD has experienced similar trends. This fall, 80% of the district’s 2023 graduating class applied to college, 50% of those students were admitted and 64% enrolled in either a two-year or four-year institution. By contrast, prior to the pandemic, 94% of the district’s 2019 graduating seniors applied to college, 74% were admitted and 52% enrolled in college.

“This is one of the strategic partnerships we are proud to have as we continue to grow our postsecondary enrollment numbers past our pre-pandemic rates,” said Dustin Nieto, coordinator for postsecondary services at SAISD.

To launch the new direct admission program, SAISD notified more than 700 high achieving SAISD juniors about the opportunity to be offered direct admission by UTSA. More than 400 of those students indicated they were interested in joining UTSA’s Fall 2024 entering class. Of those, 282 have already completed or are completing UTSA’s admission application.

One of those students is Angie Martinez, a senior at Brackenridge High School. Martinez, who is the first in her family to graduate from high school and attend college, was overcome with the opportunity her admission offer provided.

“When I had that message last year about the direct admission to UTSA, I started crying,” Martinez said. “It was the first school that accepted me. I got so excited. I cried, and I told my mom about it, and she cried as well. UTSA was a first choice. I wanted to be near home and it’s such a good school. For financial stuff as well, they give a lot of good opportunities.”

In addition to their direct admission, SAISD students who choose to matriculate to UTSA would also earn direct admission to the UTSA Honors College, which is home to 2,000-plus high-achieving students across all majors. The college is home to one of the most unique experiential honors curricula in the nation.

That possibility is extremely attractive to Yasmin Perez, a Jefferson High School senior, who will major in mechanical engineering.

“It interests me just being in a tight-knit community,” Perez said. “In high school I’ve been in the IB program, which is also a really small program. Having a smaller group that I can interact with more, maybe have more interaction with my professors, that’s something that I really value.”

At the same time, SAISD students who accept their invitations to the UTSA Honors College will receive a $1,500 stipend each semester if they choose to live on campus, independent of financial need. First-year students in the UTSA Honors College live in Guadalupe Hall, one of the university’s newest living-learning communities.

The new early notification system allows the institution’s admissions staff to have additional touchpoints, support and communication opportunities throughout the enrollment process with SAISD students, many of whom, like Perez, are among the first generations in their families to attend college.

“They’ve been really helpful showing you the process of the steps,” Perez said. “UTSA sends me a lot of emails. They’re very precise on what they send you, so I really benefit from that. It has not just been emails. They’ve also called, whether it is reminding me about the scholarships, the honors college or dorming — just them checking up, reassuring you.”

SAISD and UTSA began discussing the concept for the direct admission program in August 2022, including how they might collaborate to pre-qualify SAISD students for automatic admission to UTSA by streamlining processes and removing barriers to data sharing.

Aquino and Eighmy are members of the board of directors of UP Partnership, a San Antonio nonprofit that aims to increase economic mobility for young people through higher education. UP Partnership created opportunities for UTSA and SAISD to conceptualize, discuss and design their direct admission program as the lead driver of a communitywide strategic plan called Future Ready Bexar County.

Through the Future Ready Bexar County Plan, UP Partnership works with more than 90 institutional partners to create equitable, data-driven solutions that prepare Bexar County students for the future with an aligned North Star goal that calls for 70% of Bexar County high school graduates to be in a degree or credential program by 2030.

“As the driver of the Future Ready Bexar County Plan, we consistently challenge our institutional partners to think differently about how they work in order to set our community’s young people up for a better future,” said Briana Hagalgans, UP Partnership director of K12 and Postsecondary. 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

There have been several major advancements in 2023 that show the progress of the Future Ready Bexar County Plan as we work toward the collective North Star goal of increasing the percentage of Bexar County high school graduates enrolling in a postsecondary degree or credential program to 70%.

“This Future Ready Bexar County plan is the first, in my experience, that had a convener in UP Partnership to bring everyone together around a unified North Star and enable us to coordinate all our efforts in a way that, we anticipate, is going to have the intended effect in the most efficient way,”

Below is a list of accomplishments by sector for UP Partnership:

Future Ready Leadership Table and
Joint Leadership Table

The Future Ready Bexar County Plan is guided by two leadership tables — the Future Ready Leadership Table and the Joint Leadership Table (JOLT).

The Future Ready Leadership Table

Meets twice a year and consists of the top executive and a senior leader from each Future Ready partner. We kicked off  2023 with the first of these meetings in January with an inspiring speech from Geoffrey Canada, President of Harlem Children’s Zone, with a challenge for all of us to work differently as we began our 2023 collective impact journey.

Throughout the year, this table also outlined new student outreach strategies across multiple sectors and deepened community focus on alternatives to juvenile probation with Bexar County and the Department of Justice.

Bexar County Juvenile Probation appreciates being a part of the Future Ready Bexar County Plan because we know that when young people get involved in the justice system, their educational opportunities become narrow and their ability to successfully complete school greatly reduces.

“We try to keep as many young people out of the juvenile system as possible,” she continued during a Future Ready Leadership Table meeting. “Through our continued work within the Future Ready, we are helping our youth find their paths to postsecondary opportunities and success.”

The Joint Leadership Table

 An intergenerational table that meets quarterly and consists of senior leaders and youth leaders from each Future Ready partner. This year we rooted our partners in Search Institute’s “Developmental Relationships” as the common framework to implement youth voice, which includes express care, challenge growth, provide support, share power and expand possibilities. This was particularly important as 20-plus youth leaders from Future Ready partner institutions were integrated into this table. 

Having a seat at this table is important because it allows us to have a say in the barriers we are facing and the ideas we have for removing them,


Future Ready Data Council

The Future Ready Data Council successfully launched in November with an introduction and orientation meeting that included partners from all sectors of the Future Ready Plan. Partners grounded themselves in the purpose of the Data Council, which is to ensure all Future Ready partners have the data capacity and insight needed to drive progress and support the plan’s overall monitoring. It will do this by scaling an integrated communications and pre-enrollment system and helping to report out in real time progress on leading indicators for college enrollment.

Future Ready Communications Council

The Future Ready Communications Council, now in its second year, continued its work of advancing a unified narrative of the collective impact of the work being done in Bexar County. With a focus on optimal messaging within the partner ecosystem, it continues to build and expand platforms for collaborative engagement and storytelling linked to the fulfillment of the equity pillars of Healing, Access and Voice. This included hosting a professional development workshop on storytelling by Key Ideas Chief Storysmith Carlos Maestas.

Data Resources

UP Partnership’s Cradle to Career Dashboard allows users to assess progress towards the Future Ready Bexar County Plan’s collective North Star goal by offering community information on education and workforce system characteristics, tracking postsecondary education attainment and education-to career objectives and Bexar County benchmark efforts compared against Texas state averages.

This data resource was developed in conjunction with Future Ready partners and is there for you to use!

This data resource was developed in conjunction with Future Ready partners and is there for you to use!

K12 and Justice

The majority of the work done by UP Partnership’s K12 and Justice team is rooted in the equity pillar of healing. Through the My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio (MBKSA) network and the Restorative Practices Collaborative, community partners continued to shift from punitive punishments to healing.

In recognition of the impact that MBKSA is having on boys and young men of color in Bexar County graduating from high school, the network joined 27 other communities across the nation to receive certification from My Brother’s Keeper national organization and the Obama Foundation. 

This means that MBKSA is in good national standing and has been able to demonstrate that it has built the infrastructure needed to support boys and young men of color (BYMOC) in Bexar County through MBKSA’s Logic Model and Racial Justice Initiative and ensuring quality programming standards for BYMOC.

“What an incredible honor that we, all of us in MBKSA, have received from the MBK Alliance and the Obama Foundation,” said Airika Crawford, Co-Chair of MBKSA. “This certification signifies the impact we have already made on the future of boys and young men of color but, it reminds us that there is still much more work to be done.”

RPC Cohort 3 started the final leg of restorative justice training that will be completed in March of 2024. The cohort has approximately 55 participants, the largest to date, from East Central ISD, Judson ISD, Harlandale ISD and San Antonio and the training has already made a difference in classrooms and schools.

“I’ve noticed when I do RJ circles on Friday’s before a test, my students are much calmer taking it which, in turn, improves their scores,” one participant explained. “It also sets the tone for the day. Students talk nicely to each other, argue less and work together throughout the day.”


Students also said circles give them a platform to express feelings that they wouldn’t otherwise talk about at school or home. For one student, “Circle helps me talk about stuff I don’t like to talk about in school and, mostly, not at home.”

K12 and Postsecondary

The majority of the work done by UP Partnership’s K12 and Postsecondary team is rooted in the equity pillar of access. Through the Diplomás network and the Equitable Enrollment Collaborative (EEC), community partners continued to shift from disconnection to access.

During the City of San Antonio’s annual Welcome Week, a week dedicated to uplifting the voices of immigrants and refugees, Diplomás received a City proclamation for its continued commitment to bettering the future of those communities in San Antonio because every young person deserves access to a positive and supported childhood.

Diplomás community partners came together to define the network’s North Star goal in alignment with the Future Ready North Star goal. By 2030, Diplomás will scale and expand access to promising programs and services that support postsecondary enrollment and completion for Dreamer and Latinx students across all Future Ready partners.

To do this, the network will focus on building a resource and program landscape map for Dreamers and Latinx students across Bexar County. This map will allow partners to identify existing resources, promising practices and gaps in the existing programming for student populations.

The EEC continued to provide space for school districts, colleges and universities and community based organizations to come together to increase access to postsecondary opportunities for the young people in Bexar County.

Some examples of these successful collaborations include:

AlamoPROMISE is simple. It means every student, no matter the circumstances, has the ability to pursue their full potential, with no cost to them.

K12 and Youth Development

The majority of the work done by UP Partnership’s K12 and Youth Development team is rooted in the equity pillars of access and voice. Through the Excel Beyond the Bell San Antonio (EBBSA) network and the Excel Academy, community partners continued to shift from isolation to voice and disconnection to access.

In February, UP Partnership announced its partnership with Search Institute, a Minnesota-based positive youth development and equity-focused organization, to collaboratively expand the framework of Excel Academy to a national scale. Through a $1.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, a new three-year framework that helps organizations to cultivate relationships – a character-rich climate has been developed and guides the leadership cohorts. 

Excel Academy launched the Class of 2024 and phase two for the Class of 2023. Fifteen (15) participants returned for the Class of 2023 and 27 first time participants for the Class of 2024 from the following organizations:

In the new cohort, nearly all participants surveyed considered the session “extremely useful” and celebrated “getting to know other organizations,” recognizing these relationships will lead to “more resources [and] connections available in [San Antonio].

Future Ready Events

Future Ready Practitioner Conference

In May, more than 200 youth-serving professionals across Bexar County came together at the inaugural Future Ready Practitioner Conference held at St. Mary’s University.

The conference was hosted by UP Partnership and a group of cross-sector partners, many of whom are members of My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio, Excel Beyond the Bell San Antonio and Diplomás networks, which helped form the conference’s programming.

The conference provided professional development and networking opportunities for teachers and college faculty, principals, counselors, economic advisors and college admissions officers, among others.

“The UP Partnership Practitioner Conference was an opportunity to celebrate innovations in practice for youth across our Future Ready Bexar County partners,” noted Dr. Abel Gonzales, Director of Instructional Outreach Programs at the University of Texas at San Antonio, “Teachers, faculty and staff members from every level of the education ecosystem shared how equity minded practitioners are making a difference in better serving the leaders of tomorrow.”

Moving the needle forward with a national lens

Together, our community reached the “Systems Transformation” Cradle to Career Network member designation from the national backbone organization StriveTogether due to our partners’ continued impact on the lives of young people across Bexar County.

This dedication also extended to various Future Ready community partners joining UP Partnership staff on a variety of national professional development trips and conferences. These opportunities collectively expanded the knowledge of those who attended and served to advance the work that is being done in Bexar County.

Future Ready partner Holly Pompa, Trauma-Informed Program Manager, Bexar County Juvenile Probation, joined UP Partnership joined UP Partnership’s K12 and Justice team on a visit to Oakland Unified School Districts’ (OUSD). The aim of the visit was to augment information and resources about restorative practices and the difference it has made in schools in the district.

For Pompa, the experience was invaluable. “Being in a circle completely led by students and being able to ask them questions, was the perfect way to see how a longstanding program with strong implementation and support can create a deep rooted practice within school communities,” she shared.

Concurrently, Pompa and UP Partnership staff were joined at StriveTogether’s 2023 Cradle to Career Network Convening in San Francisco, Calif. by several other key Future Ready partners including:

Team San Antonio joined over 500 national participants for plenaries, sessions and workshops designed to further align the importance of continued collective work to ensure all young people have equitable pathways to the best possible successes in life.

Contreras was pleased with the “large number of trainings offered, which provided a variety of best practices from which to learn.”

In May, Harlem Children’s Zone hosted UP Partnership staff and a cross-sector of Future Ready community partners including Alamo Colleges District, Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas, Communities In Schools of San Antonio, San Antonio Area Foundation and United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County. The lessons learned on this trip will help community implementation of the Future Ready Bexar County Plan as we enter its next phase.

In July, UP Partnership’s Director of Data and Information Management was joined by staff from Future Ready community partners Communities In Schools of San Antonio and East Central ISD at the William Julius Wilson Institute and Harvard EdRedesign Lab’s Transforming Place Through Neighborhood Leadership Summer Training. The sessions equipped Team San Antonio with the tools needed to think through and advance work using data insights.

“We definitely learned a lot and all feel inspired and ignited to come home and continue to sustain this work,” Natasha Richardson, Strategic Partnership Manager, Communities In Schools of San Antonio, said after the trip.

Making sure that all Bexar County’s young people are future-ready is our entire community’s responsibility and together we have advanced that work on all fronts this past year but there is still much more to do. Our work will continue into 2024 and we must actively and collectively come together to ensure our young people can access higher-quality, more inclusive programming and supports.