ACC takes big step toward free college

Career Scholars Graphic

During a year many struggled to continue their education, Austin Community College District (ACC) launched a new all-inclusive scholarship program to help cover the costs of college. New data on ACC’s Career Scholars program show students in the inaugural year had near-perfect persistence rates. 

Career Scholars covers the cost of tuition at ACC — up to  $5,000 over three years — and includes personalized support services to help guide students all the way from enrollment through completion and into a promising, high-demand career.

“This kind of work is what it takes to reimagine higher education and eliminate equity gaps, and it’s what we mean when we say ACC is for everyone. Simply put, the Career Scholars program creates opportunity, and that’s an incredibly powerful tool,” says Dr. Richard Rhodes, ACC chancellor. “I am proud we have found a way to make the bulk of college free. By lifting that weight of paying for college, we are helping students jumpstart into a promising career, and we’re alleviating roadblocks along the way.”

The program was developed to better support underserved communities in the region and provide pathways for students to earn a workforce certificate or degree and enter into a promising, high-demand career.

It launched as a pilot in fall 2020 with two inaugural cohorts — one for eligible graduating high school seniors and the other for adult learners. More than 260 students were selected for the inaugural year. New student success data is promising. 

  • Adult Career Scholars Persistence: 97 percent (fall-to-spring 2020-21)
  • Direct-to-College Career Scholars Persistence: 94 percent (fall-to-spring 2020-21)

In comparison, the average persistence rate at ACC is 77 percent (fall-to-spring) for first-time college students. 

Complete Academic Support

All Career Scholars are assigned a personal mentor who can help them navigate the college experience. They get access to ACC’s complete suite of support services customized to provide them hands-on support from faculty, academic advisors, and career services professionals. Services include:

  • Enrollment assistance
  • Scholarship and financial aid application assistance
  • Advising and counseling
  • Free tutoring and academic support
  • Job search and resume guidance
  • Help navigating finances
  • Low-cost child care

Adult Career Scholars

ACC’s Adult Career Scholars program supported 160 students in 2020/21. Students were selected and awarded based on economic standing and academic performance. 

“The main reason why I didn't go to college right after high school was that I was the primary caretaker for my family. After 10 years in the workforce, I needed a career change. I wanted something better. Coming back to school was always my goal; it was just financial barriers that stopped me from coming back sooner,” says Melanie Castro, Adult Career Scholar. “Being a Career Scholar means there are coordinators to help me anytime I have questions. Knowing they are there and just how available they are has helped me keep going.” 

All students enrolled in a workforce degree or certificate program in one of the most in-demand industries in Central Texas including:

  • Accounting/Bookkeeping
  • Computer Sciences
  • Health Care
  • Manufacturing
  • Applied Tech/Skilled Trades

High School Senior Track

The college’s High School Graduate Career Scholars program supported 109 graduating seniors. Students were selected from 11 Early College High schools within the district and awarded based on economic standing and academic persistence. 

"My first semester didn't go very well. It was during COVID, I was feeling stressed, didn't talk to anybody, it was rough for me. In the spring I started talking to my coordinator and reaching out when I needed help. After that, I started improving during my classes and overall doing better. That support was really important for me,” says Sandesh Sapkota, Direct-to-College Career Scholar. “Career Scholars helps you with someone always being there and getting the money to help pay for college. Education is so important in improving your life and earning more money."

This fall, the program will expand to all area ISDs. Students may select among a growing list of industries, including:

  • Business
  • Computer Sciences
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Health Care
  • Manufacturing
  • Applied Tech/Skilled Trades

The college will expand the program in fall 2021 and expects to double enrollment. Applications are now open. The application deadline is July 1, 2021. 

For more information and to view eligibility requirements for both tracks, visit