PALMER — High school students in the Palmer Independent School District who are in the top quarter of their graduating class but might have a difficult time getting into college will soon find the door to matriculation wide open — and painted purple.

The Palmer ISD board of trustees formalized a memorandum of understanding at Monday night’s monthly meeting that creates a partnership between the school district and Tarleton State University starting with the 2020-2021 school year.

The agreement provides annual scholarships and guarantees admission to Palmer High School seniors who graduate in the top 25 percent of their class.

“We have seen that students that leave Palmer and have historically enrolled at Tarleton are insanely successful,” said Tarleton president Dr. James Hurley, who was at Monday’s board meeting. “We feel very confident in the school systems we are signing with those top 25 percent students that we are automatically accepting regardless of ACT score. We’ve seen that those students do very well. So whatever you’re doing here, keep it up, because you’ve got a great district.”

Hurley said Tarleton wants to make itself the first choice among graduating students in the region and make itself the ultimate destination.

“To do that, we have to have pathway programs,” he said. “We feel like enhanced scholarships, the ability to accept these students without restrictions, create those natural pathways.”

Also representing Tarleton at the meeting were Jessica Evans, alumni director; and Kyle McGregor, vice president of institutional advancement.

Palmer ISD becomes the fifth school district to join Tarleton’s program and the smallest so far, although Hurley said Tarleton is nearing agreements with even smaller districts in the region. In recent weeks, Tarleton has struck similar partnerships with the Alvarado, Stephenville, Mineral Wells and Granbury ISDs.

“We’re super excited to offer this to our students,” Palmer ISD board president Christen Vick said. “This is going to be an amazing opportunity for all of them. Academics is a priority here and we’re very proud of our faculty and students. As long as you have faculty and leaders who have a heart for the district and the students, you can accomplish anything.”

Tarleton’s Distinguished High School Partnership Program provides a smooth enrollment option for high schoolers entering college. Tarleton, which is a part of the Texas A&M system, has campuses in Midlothian, Fort Worth, Waco and Bryan as well as its main campus in Stephenville. Credits can also be earned online.

The memorandum of understanding that was signed on Monday states that the top 25 percent of each graduating class from Palmer High School will be automatically accepted to Tarleton. The university will also waive SAT and ACT testing requirements, as well as the admissions application fee.

“It was a fantastic night for the graduates of Palmer High School,” superintendent Kevin Noack said. “We are constantly looking for ways to benefit our students, and Tarleton has provided them a new opportunity with this partnership. We look forward to the benefits it will provide to both our students and the great Tarleton State University.”

Noack said the main driver of connecting Palmer with Tarleton was high school principal Brian Warner, a 1995 Tarleton grad who is very active in the university’s alumni program.

“We have probably 10 to 12 alums who graduated from Tarleton working for us,” Noack said. ”It’s just a great opportunity. We send a lot of kids, several every year, to Tarleton. It’s a very good situation for us. It’s a good partnership.”

In addition, the agreement allows for an unspecified number of scholarships of at least $1,000 each to PHS graduates who attend Tarleton, and an additional scholarship of at least $5,000 will be designated for a graduate in the top 10 percent of the class. Tarleton will also provide ongoing support for financial aid, admissions, degree counseling, work-study mentorships, peer mentoring and more.

At more than 13,000 total students enrolled, Tarleton is on a fast growth track and will begin a four-year athletic transition process into NCAA Division I status next year, which is expected to raise the school’s profile.

A longtime member of the Division II Lone Star Conference, the Texans will compete initially as a Division I FCS independent in football and have already been accepted as a member of the Division I Western Athletic Conference in other sports.

“We’ve got a lot to be thankful for,” Hurley said. “I inherited a great institution and we’re just trying to make it better each day.”