Palo Alto College was the culmination of a struggle that first was voiced at the 1974 convention of Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS) when Fernando Rodriguez Jr. introduced a resolution to work toward obtaining a community college for the West Side or South Side of San Antonio.
The effort gained momentum in November 1982 when Southside community leaders and COPS sought and received the endorsement of Gubernatorial candidate Mark White for a community college in the under-served Southside of Bexar County.
They then approached Alamo Community College District trustees to build a third college. Trustees approved funds to plan and purchase land for the college on February 21, 1983, and it was chartered by the Texas Legislature on March 19, 1983 - the official date of its founding.
Palo Alto College classes began with 231 students in high schools and at military installations in September 1985, and administrative offices were located at Billy Mitchell Village outside the Kelly Air Force Base gates.
Through a bond issue passed in 1983 by Bexar County voters, the $13 million campus was built to accommodate 2,500 students on land inside Loop 410 at Texas Highway 16 in southern Bexar County.
When the mission-style campus opened in January 1987, the new college attracted students from throughout Bexar County and adjoining counties and was named the fastest growing college in Texas in 1991.
Consistent increases in enrollment have prompted much physical growth, specifically through the construction of new facilities for added classroom space as well as sports and recreation. The college is located on 126 acres.
The original complex consisted of 26 classrooms in 11 buildings.
A $3.6 million, two-story General Education classroom building opened in January 1991, doubling the classroom space on campus.
A $10.5 million Natatorium/Gymnasium Complex opened in January 1992 as a partnership with the City of San Antonio.
The $9.5 million, 77,000-square-foot George Ozuna Jr. Learning Resources & Academic Computing Center opened in August 1997, adding one-third to the square footage at the college.
The Ray Ellison Family Center to accommodate 66 children, opened in October 2001, and earned accreditation status from the National Association for the Education of Young Children in 2010.
Sabine Hall, to house applied technology programs, opened in January 2005.
With Bexar County's passage of the November 2005 ACCD Capital Improvement Bond, Palo Alto College has experienced unparalleled physical growth:
- January 2008: A $5.2 million Veterinary Technology Building;
- August 2009: A $14.7 million Performing Arts Center Building, providing a cultural venue for the Southside. The building houses a 400-seat theater, speech and drama classrooms, dance and recording studios, recital hall, and a scene shop.
- November 2009: $13.9 million Brazos Hall for science, social sciences and workforce programs. They include science, government and history classrooms, computer labs, and allied health classrooms.
Total square footage is 560,737 on 162.7 acres.
Permanent presidents have been Dr. Terry Dicianna (1985-1989), Dr. Byron Skinner (1990-1992), Dr. Joel Vela (1993-1996), Dr. Enrique Solis (1998-2001), Dr. Ana M."Cha" Guzmán (2001-2012), and Dr. Ruben Michael "Mike" Flores (2012-Present).
The college achieved full accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1989. Its accreditation was reaffirmed in 2012.
The emphasis of Palo Alto College always has been its students. Enrollment reached a peak in Fall 2011 with 9,163 students reported. Historically, Hispanics comprise more than half of Palo Alto's enrollment, and females generally outnumber males.
Palo Alto's education outreach extends well beyond its campus and into "the heart of the community," the college slogan adopted in 1994. The mascot is the Palomino.
A dual-credit program enables students to take Palo Alto courses and earn college credit while still in high school as an incentive to pursue a higher education upon graduation. Palo Alto College was among eight community colleges in the nation examined in a Ford Foundation study because its students are highly successful when transferring to four- year universities.
Palo Alto College became the home of The Frank M. Tejeda/Palo Alto College Scholarship in April 1996.
In Fall 2000 Texas A&M University-Kingsville began offering junior- and senior-level courses on the Palo Alto College campus. Through the Pathway Model from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, TAMUK operated a System Center until Texas A&M University-San Antonio became a reality on the Southside in 2009.
In 2010, Palo Alto was among 22 community colleges nationwide selected to participate in the Foundations of Excellence project, a major self-study and improvement process designed to help campuses evaluate and improve the overall experience of first-year and transfer students.
As a capstone to its efforts to provide for its students, the college achieved its first $1 million scholarship endowment.
After 25 years, Palo Alto College is making a difference and moving forward to share its campus and its resources to improve its community.