• IDRA Newsletter • March 2005 •

A group of leaders from across Texas gathered recently in Austin to unveil policy reform solutions to the disparities in higher education access and success for Latino students. The leaders include K-12 educators, college and university leaders, community and business advocates, and policymakers.

The Intercultural Development Research Association, supported by Houston Endowment, Inc., is leading this initiative, titled InterAction: Higher Education and Latinos in the New Millennium. It seeks to build stronger, enduring links among K-12, institutions of higher education, and the community and business sectors to effect meaningful education reform.

The 31 policy solutions below follow IDRA’s framework that identifies seven distinct areas of opportunities for reform: preparation, access, institutional persistence, affordability, institutional resources, graduation, and graduate/professional studies.

At the statewide event, participants reviewed policy solutions stemming from a series of three InterAction forums. Convened this fall, each forum addressed issues facing a specific community of interest – urban, rural or border areas. The forums were hosted by President Max Castillo and the University of Houston-Downtown, President David Watts and the University of Texas- Permian Basin, and President Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas and the University of Texas-Pan American, respectively. The LULAC State Education Committee and the Texas Latino Education Coalition co-hosted all three forums.

Following are the resulting policy solutions for each of the seven issues that framed the discourse presented on February 2, 2005. Guiding this effort were principles for a new vision and action:

  • From access and success for only a few to access and success for all
  • From a culture of blaming to a culture of shared accountability for student success.
  • From isolated efforts in PK-12, higher education, and communities to interconnected support for Latino student success PK through graduate school.

Preparing Students

IDRA’s research shows that Texas high schools lose one third of their students before graduation. Of the total who survive and graduate with a high school diploma, one of two are White, one of three are Hispanic, and one of six are Black.

Of those who graduate from high school, two of five earn a “recommended or above” degree. Only one of three Hispanic students earn the preferred degree, and half are low-income (only one of 20 Whites with this degree are low-income).

The policy solutions are the following.

  • Establish and fund a statewide system that aligns public school standards with higher education standards, particularly in composition, reading comprehension and mathematics. This would also align an accelerated curriculum across PK-20.
  • Establish and fund a “course ladder” system in which all high school students have a requirement of at least two dual credit courses for graduation. This would bridge colleges and universities with high schools.
  • Establish and fund academic summer camps for middle school students to prepare them to enroll in high school accelerated curricula that will prepare them for college.
  • Require a half credit high school course that supports transitions from high school to college (“planning for college”) to be taken by all juniors and seniors.
  • Increase access to technology in rural areas to facilitate admissions and access to online financial aid applications.
  • Establish and fund a statewide grant that reinforces college preparation and enrollment in historically underrepresented areas around the state.

College Access

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, of those who graduate from high school, only one of five enroll in a Texas public university the following fall. Close to one of four enroll in a two-year college, but more than half will not enroll at all.

Hispanic student enrollment increased from 23 percent in the fall of 2000 to 25 percent in the fall of 2003 but still falls short of Texas its 2005 target.

The policy solutions are the following.

  • De-emphasize weight given to standardized test scores in admission policies and merit-based scholarship programs. Use multiple criteria for admissions that are more dependent on academic courses, extracurricular activities, recommendation letters and individual interviews when required.
  • Tie higher education accountability with enrollment targets or critical indicators (such as percentage of minority or poor students) using an audit management team for monitoring progress.
  • Eliminate duplicative assessment in high school and college (TAKS exit level, SAT/ACT and THEA), in the Texas tradition of not spending money on redundancy.
  • Use a formula adjustment in college and university allocation that expands technology in rural areas.
  • Increase the allotment for access to instruction via technology.
  • Keep the 10 Percent Plan to ensure isolated and rural students have access to colleges and universities.
  • Establish financial incentives for institutions to recruit, retain and graduate students from college and graduate schools.

Institutional Persistence

Once enrolled, students have the best chance of returning for a second year if they are full-time students. This is a more important factor than the type of diploma earned in high school.

The THECB states that full-time college status is difficult given that one of four high school students is economically disadvantaged. It is especially difficult for Latino students given that one of two is low-income (compared to less than one out of 10 White students).

The policy solutions are the following.

  • Develop an “education tracking system,” a seamless state database stratified by regions and counties to follow students from high school through college. The database would build on the current THECB accountability system.
  • Establish and fund “college transition community centers” to ease the transition from high school to college and link PK-20 schools with the community and businesses. Using a “learning communities model,” these community-based student and parent outreach and recruitment centers would provide information concerning admissions, financial aid, concurrent enrollment, scholarships and employment opportunities in partnership with high schools, colleges, universities and libraries. They would also serve as “bridge” academies for first-generation college students.
  • Encourage and fund partnerships with business communities that guarantee internships and employment opportunities for students in emerging employment areas.


According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Texas earns a “D” in affordability in the state report card. Low-and middle-income students have to bear 40 percent of their family’s income for a public four-year college and 30 percent of the annual family income for a community college. The steepest increases in public college tuition have been imposed during times of greatest economic hardship.

Over the past 10 years, tuition at Texas public two-year institutions increased 29 percent and tuition at Texas public four-year institutions increased 63 percent, while the median family income in Texas increased only 8 percent.

The policy solutions are the following.

  • Make student funding need-based as well as merit-based.
  • Increase state funding for the Texas Work Study program.
  • Designate monies specifically for critical shortage areas, such as engineering, science and mathematics in order to increase the number of professionals in those areas (parallel to the National Defense Student Loan).
  • Offer free tuition for the first two years of college.

Institutional Resources

The THECB reported recently that Texas has not met its target in total research and development dollars. However, the University of Texas system has the largest endowment in the state with over $8 billion and is the top fundraiser.

The policy solutions are the following.

  • Establish a weighted allocation for institutional needs and characteristics, including growth, unique rural and border needs.
  • Provide additional institutional resources for first-year students that include targeted funding for smaller class sizes, appropriate coursework and more advisors.


More than half of Texas college students (52 percent) take six years to graduate, according to the THECB. Texas has the greatest number of NCAA Division 1 institutions in the nation and the greatest number of its institutions in the bottom 10 percent of graduation rates.

Thirteen out of 19 public universities in Texas graduate less than half of their students; six graduate less than a third.

The policy solutions are the following.

  • Create state college and university graduation rate goals and report annual progress.
  • Create loan forgiveness programs for graduates who return to work in the local community.
  • Give greater weight to graduation rates (fourth, fifth and sixth year) in the college and university accountability system.

Graduate and Professional Studies

The number of doctoral degrees decreased by 0.25 percent from 2,621 in 2000 to 2,577 in 2003.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education reports that if all ethnic groups had the same educational attainment and earnings as Whites, total personal income in the state would be about $31.4 billion higher, and the state would realize an estimated $11 billion in additional tax revenues.

The policy solutions are the following.

  • Develop targets for increasing the number and percentage of minority faculty in higher education.
  • Create graduate school transition academies with guaranteed funding for students going to medical and law schools. Create articulation academies between undergraduate and graduate schools and two-year and four-year institutions of higher education (example of reverse transfer).
  • Expand 10 Percent Plan to include graduate and professional studies.
  • Earmark monies that are designated for graduate and professional school recruitment.
  • Expand loan forgiveness programs to graduate and postgraduate work.
  • Establish “Closing the Gaps” goals for graduate and professional programs.

For more information about the InterAction initiative, contact IDRA, 210-444-1710 or comment@idra.org.

[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 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.]