TSC trustee’s dedicated leadership supports a healthy and robust higher education ecosystem

As the senior Texas Southmost College trustee, Adela Garza’s vision, leadership and commitment to TSC have been invaluable in transforming the identity of the comprehensive community college in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. During her 12-year tenure, Garza has served in several executive positions on the TSC Board of Trustees — including secretary, vice chair and chair—helping lead the college into a new era of growth and prosperity.

“To see how far we have come is amazing,” said Garza. “Having a comprehensive community college in our communities with access to a high-quality, affordable education is life-changing for so many. It’s an honor to be playing a part in that.”

First elected to the board in 2008, Garza’s leadership has been essential to the relaunch of TSC as an independently accredited comprehensive community college, reducing tuition and fees to make TSC the most affordable institution of higher education in the Rio Grande Valley, while providing exceptional educational services as the fastest-growing community college in Texas.

Garza does not take these remarkable accomplishments for granted. Enduring harsh criticism, adversity, and sleepless nights, Garza and the board won the long-fought battle to dissolve a 20-year partnership and reestablish TSC as an independent institution of higher education, a vote that took place a decade ago in 2011.

“There was a point during my time of service that we almost lost TSC, and in my heart, I knew we could not let that happen,” she said. “The people in our communities need a fighting chance to get ahead in life, and a comprehensive community college provides them with the skills, knowledge, and support they need to climb the economic ladder.

Relaunching TSC as an independent institution of higher education came with the pressure to overcome daunting challenges in a very short period of time, which included passing state legislation, laying the foundation for accreditation and reaffirmation of the college, establishing institutional policies, and much more. Garza and her fellow board members persevered through the uncertainty because they had a clear vision for how the new TSC would positively impact the community.

“I remember when I was a student, TSC was a special place—magical, even,” she said. “And my goal has always been to give our students that same experience. TSC changes lives for the better, and I know because it changed mine.”

As a young girl growing up in Laredo, Garza had no intention of going to college after she graduated from J.W. Nixon High School. But that all changed when she met her late husband of 41 years, Faustino “Tino” Garza.

The couple relocated to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where they chose to raise their family and became successful entrepreneurs as the owners of the pharmacy, Tino’s Prescription Shop. They located the pharmacy, established in 1990, in Brownsville’s Southmost neighborhood, becoming the first pharmacy to address the needs of this historically underserved area.

It was Garza’s husband that encouraged her to pursue a college education. She said as a nontraditional student and a mother of three children, TSC provided the welcoming environment she needed to begin her college education.

“I was so scared. I was petrified to step foot on campus, so I started slow with math and English courses,” said Garza. “It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me.”

She went on to work as a senior education consultant with Wasatch Education Systems, where she led the promotion and development software education for independent school districts across the country.

As Garza and her husband’s hard work earned them success in their professional lives, she sought to serve her communities by expanding educational opportunities for local students and families.

She was elected to the Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District School Board, where she served from 1999 to 2003, including two years as board president from 2001-2003, and Tropical Behavior Health Board from 2006-2008. She also served on the boards of the Olmito Irrigation District No. 20 and Alternative South Texas Educator Program (ASTEP), as well as the building committee for Lord of Divine Mercy Catholic Church.

“Everything I have done has been in the best interest of those I serve,” she said. “And the best part of it all is seeing how lives change for the better.”

During her tenure on the TSC board, she has collaborated with her fellow trustees to accomplish what few thought would be possible when the board voted to reestablish TSC as an independent comprehensive community college a decade ago. Since then, the trustees have:
• decreased tuition and fees three times, making TSC the most affordable institution of higher education in the Rio Grande Valley,
• successfully achieved independent accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC),
• supported initiatives to increase enrollment, making TSC the fastest-growing community college in Texas,
• voted to invest millions of dollars into new workforce programs and state-of-the-art training labs,
• grew enrollment by 139% from 3,673 students in fall 2013 to 8,780 students in fall 2020,
• grew the faculty and staff by 247% from 150 in fall 2013 to 521 in fall 2020
• implemented capital projects that enhance the overall student experience,
• championed student success initiatives, yielding a graduation rate that outpaces the state’s average rate, and
• all while maintaining a healthy budget by being good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.

Garza believes that a strong TSC helps to support a healthy higher education ecosystem in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Over the past decade, TSC has reclaimed its identity as an independent comprehensive community college to better serve its communities. The University of Texas System established a new university that also expanded opportunities, such as founding the first medical school in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and finally becoming eligible to receive funding from the state’s $17.5 billion Permanent University Fund. The two institutions of higher education maintain a strong, collaborative working relationship, providing articulation agreements to help students seamlessly transfer to the university to continue their education after TSC.

Garza admits there is only one thing that will bring her to tears in public – celebrating students’ achievements during TSC commencement events.

“Commencement ceremonies are the culmination of our hard work as a board. It’s what makes everything worthwhile,” she said. “It’s a proud moment when you hear students’ success stories—how much TSC has positively changed someone’s life—and you see families smiling and embracing because of this great achievement.”

Garza said she is proud to be part of a strong, united board at TSC and she is excited to see how the college continues to grow and serve the communities.

“We’ve achieved great things as a team, from new high-quality academic and workforce programs to stronger industry and community partnerships,” said Garza. “We’ve seen a lot of success at TSC, and, as a result, it is becoming the first college of choice for many families. TSC is a great college, and we will continue to support our president’s vision of service to the communities.”