• by María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • November-December 2005 •

Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D.Editor’s Note: IDRA recently convened a series of policy action forums to create reform solutions that address disparities in higher education access and success of Latino students. The InterAction forums, supported by the Houston Endowment, brought together K-12 educators, college and university leaders, and community and business advocates from urban, rural and border communities in Texas. Thirty-one policy solutions generated from InterAction were presented at a statewide seminar in February 2005 and are available online. Below is a portion of the keynote presented by IDRA executive director, Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel at the opening forum.

InterAction is an initiative that we intend to be a vehicle for increasing Latino college access and success in the state of Texas. Let us look a little bit at this word “InterAction.” Inter– implies, of course, interconnectedness, interdependence and interrelatedness of purposes, of people and of systems. Each of you brings to this forum a set of particulars that come from what you do, be it at a university or a community college, in schools or in the community or a business entity, and those particulars that you bring are very important. The perspective and the insights from those three sectors – higher education, elementary and secondary education, and community – are very essential to this gathering.

At the same time, there is an opportunity to look at the challenge of Latino college access and success from a broad and big platform. One that creates not only common ground but common cause. One that examines not only state-level policies, but also institutional and system policies. One that assumes that the future is neither in someone else’s hands nor in our individual hands, but in our connected hands.

Let’s look at the second part of this word “InterAction,” -action. It is not enough to deplore the facts. Most of us are painfully aware of the loud drumbeat of statistics that paint a dismal picture of education opportunity for Latinos in Texas. Many of us in fact, myself included, are convinced that hard-hitting, valid, credible statistics are necessary in order to create the public will, the accountability mechanisms and the fair funding that is going to produce lasting results. There are indeed a lot of facts to explore.

Facts are Telling

Here is a little bit of what we do know from the facts: IDRA’s research shows that the Texas high schools lose one-third of their students before graduation. Of the total who graduate with a high school diploma, one of two is White, one of three is Hispanic and one of six is Black. And of those students, only one of five enrolls in a Texas public university the following fall.

Close to one of four enrolls in a two-year college, but more than half of high school graduates will not enroll at all. We know that students have the best chance of returning for a second year if they continue as full-time students. This seems to be a more important factor than the type of diploma they earn in high school. But full-time college status is difficult given that one of four high school students is economically disadvantaged and that there is a dearth of needs-based financial aid.

It is especially difficult for Latinos given that one of two Latino students in the state of Texas is poor, compared to one in 10 White students. We also know that Texas colleges and universities are being priced out of the market for most Texas families. Texas earned a “D” in affordability in a recent study state report card. The study called “Measuring Up,” and I know many of you are familiar with it, indicates that the cost of a public four-year education for low- and middle-income students is equivalent to 40 percent of the family’s income, 40 percent (NCPPHE, 2004). For a community college education, it is at 30 percent of the annual family income.

Regrettably, the steepest increases in public college tuition have been imposed during times of the greatest economic hardship for the state and for the country. Over the past 10 years, tuition in Texas public two-year institutions increased 29 percent, and tuition in Texas public four-year institutions increased 63 percent. During this same period, the median Texas family income increased only 8 percent.

But tuition isn’t the only problem. Below is a graphic of the vanishing future for Texas education. In Texas, the feigned kindergarten-through-20 pipeline is not only clogged at various transition points, it is, in fact, nonexistent. There is no pipeline for Texans. There is no pipeline that moves students from quality early childhood education to college graduation and beyond.

So, there are many facts to deplore; but clearly, we must act. We must act now; and we must act with what is so, today. But take action around what? Well, obviously around a vision.

Texas Education – A Vanishing Future

“In Texas the pre-kindergarten through 20 pipeline is not only clogged at various transition points, it is, in fact, nonexistent. There is no pipeline for Texans. There is no pipeline that moves students from quality early childhood education to college graduation and beyond.” – Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, executive director of IDRA


Source: InterAction – The Initiative: A Call to Action (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2005).

Survival Requires Interconnectedness

“Every Texan educated to the level necessary to achieve his or her dreams. No one is left behind. Each can pursue higher education. Colleges and universities focus on the recruitment and the success of students and in all levels of education. The business community and the public are constant partners in recruiting and preparing students and faculty who will meet the state workforce and research needs” (THECB, 2000).

You may have recognized this statement as the vision statement of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in the “Closing the Gaps” effort. Dr. Ed Apodaca said that this statement is not a vision statement; that it is, in fact, for the state of Texas, a survival statement.

Many would agree that in order to survive, the state of Texas must increase the current 5 percent participation rate in higher education and that the current 3.7 participation rate for Hispanic students in higher education affects not only themselves but everyone.

So, what do we do? How do we interact? IDRA has developed a particular framework that may begin to create common cause and to frame common cause. Those areas are:

  • preparing students,
  • college access,
  • institutional persistence,
  • affordability,
  • institutional resources,
  • graduation, and
  • graduate and professional studies.

I invite you to remember as we move forward that in the words of Martin Luther King, “We are all caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality.” I believe that the long-term progress in Latino access and success requires acknowledging and building on that mutuality. Higher education, elementary and secondary education, community, Latino, African American, White, the government sector, the for-profit sector, nonprofit sector, rich to middle class and poor, we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And so the name “InterAction.”

Shopping List for the Future

There’s an interesting fact in the “Measuring Up” report as well that I want to share with you. It concludes that if all ethnic groups in Texas had the same educational attainment and earnings as Whites, total personal income in Texas would be about $31.4 billion higher, and the state would realize an estimated $11 billion in additional Texas revenues (NCPPHE, 2004).

And what could Texas do with an additional $11 billion in tax revenue? Those of you of who are superintendents, who are presidents of universities, who are involved with policy at many levels, know that with $11 billion a lot could be done.

So, here’s my shopping list. We could invest $3.4 billion in kindergarten through grade 12 public education in Texas and reach at least the U.S. average of spending per student. Textbook costs for students next year will total $560 million. With double that amount, we can provide for enough materials for the growing number of English language learners, more library books in the low wealth schools and better-equipped computer and science labs. We could provide additional dollars for student financial aid.

The Texas Be On Time Program, which currently costs $388 million to serve a few students based on financial need and contingent on completing four years at a four-year institution or two years at a community college, could create other ways to find means-based assistance. So, let’s say that we allocate double the amount that has been allocated so far to the Texas Be On Time Program. That would be $776 million.

And then we could fund technology for teachers and students. A Hewlett Packard Pavilion laptop computer costs $1,229. For Texas’ 288,386 teachers, that would amount to $354,426,395. Then we could get a laptop for 2 million of Texas’ 4.2 million students, for about half of them, and that would cost $2,458,000,000.

We could invest $31 million in what is needed for Texas to reach the average level of national spending for public transit, and we could spend an additional $983 million to reach the national average for spending on highways and streets.

And then we could do a little bit about health care. We would have the $1.3 billion that is needed for Texas to be on par with the nation’s average spending for public health. And then we could restore the health care aid for children and the elderly that was cut in 2003. In Bexar County that would be $21.8 million; in Dallas County, $26.5 million; in Harris County, $43 million; in Travis County, $7 million; about $100 million, rounded out to take care of children and the elderly in the state of Texas.

And then I totaled my list and ended up with $10.5 billion, which leaves us about $500 million for good measure. So, that is what $11 billion could buy the students of Texas; but in order to do that, we have to create educational parity for all Texans.

I say that we owe it to ourselves, to our children and to our children’s children to find out what educational parity would look like. How might we, you and I here today, and the InterAction initiative as we move forward, interact and interconnect? What might we be able to do? That is what today is about. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and your vision for the future.

See the event proceedings publication.


National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Measuring Up – The State Report Card on Higher Education (San Jose, California: NCPPHE, 2004).
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Closing the Gaps: The Texas Higher Education Plan (Austin, Texas: THECB, 2000).

María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., is the IDRA executive director. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at robledo.montecel@idra.org.

[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November- December 2005 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]