• by María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2005

Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D.Editor’s Note: The Intercultural Development Research Association, supported by Houston Endowment, Inc., convened a statewide seminar in February to address disparities in the college access and success of Latino students. At the statewide event in Austin, leaders from different sectors reviewed policy solutions identified during a series of three InterAction forums in late 2004. Following is an adaptation of the opening remarks prepared by María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., IDRA executive director. See Page 12 for a list of all the policy solutions.

We have all come together from many different places: from Abilene to Bruni, Fort Stockton to Houston, Muleshoe to Brownsville. We even invited an old friend to come all the way from Cambridge, Mass., to join us.

We wear distinct hats. We are teachers, professors, community and business leaders, legislators, school administrators, parents. We play different roles, from helping a child to take their first step, to being at a young adult’s side when they take their first stand. And we come together in dialogue, despite some differences.

But we come together with common ideals and a common ground. All of us believe that everyone, regardless of where they come from, should have a fair shot at life.
Latino students, however, do not always get that fair shot. Yet Latinos are the future in Texas as we have all come to realize.

The Texas Workforce Commission recently estimated that between 2026 and 2035, more than 50 percent of the Texas population will be Hispanic. Hispanic children now represent the majority of entrants into Texas public schools. Hispanic youth account for about 40 percent of college-age Texans.

But, many of us also know that almost half of Latino students in Texas do not graduate from high school. And in the year 2000, only 11 percent of Hispanics 25 years old and older (compared to 28 percent of Whites) had earned a bachelor’s degree.

Today, in 2005, when we look at Latino access and success in higher education, our vision, while achievable, is still very far from being achieved.

We know this not only from hard data, but also from in-depth dialogue, conversations around the state that took place during the three major forums that have led to our work together today.

Seven Key Factors for Success

These InterAction forums examined gains and gaps in higher education, not just by looking at a single indicator, but by examining a combination of inter-related factors that critically impact student participation and success.

This seven-point framework for assessing the status of Latino access and success includes:

  • college preparation,
  • access to higher education,
  • institutional persistence (policies, structures and supports that keep students in college through to graduation),
  • affordability,
  • institutional resources,
  • graduation rates, and
  • access to and participation in graduate and professional studies.

Texas is Missing the Mark

Measuring our progress against this framework and considering the varying experiences of our urban, rural and border regions, there can be no doubt that in Latino participation in college in Texas, we have missed the mark.

We have missed the mark on college preparation. Texas high schools lose one third of their students before graduation. Of those who do graduate from high school, only two of five Texas students earn a recommended curriculum diploma; yet only one in three Hispanic students earn this preferred high school credential.

We have missed the mark on college access. Of those who graduate from Texas high schools, only one out of five enrolls in a Texas public university the following fall. More than half will not enroll at all.

Although 2005 enrollment targets have been met for Black students and White students, Hispanic student enrollment is not yet on track. In fact, Texas needs to increase Hispanic college enrollment by an additional 48,041 students to reach the 2005 target. And even those numbers may have to increase based on recent recommended increases to those enrollment targets.

We have missed the mark on institutional persistence. Colleges do not do enough to help Latino students who get into college stay in or persist all the way through graduation and beyond. We have learned, for example, that first-year college students have the best chance of returning for a second year if they are enrolled full-time. Yet, full-time status is nearly impossible when one in four high school students is economically disadvantaged. It is especially difficult when one in two Latino students is poor.

We have missed the mark dramatically on affordability. Over the past 10 years, tuition at Texas two-year institutions has increased almost 30 percent; four-year institutions increased 63 percent. Meanwhile, median family incomes have increased by only 8 percent. In fact, the sharpest increases in tuition costs have been imposed during the time of greatest economic hardship in the state.

We have missed the mark on institutional resources. Across the board, at primary, secondary and post-secondary levels, despite years of advocacy, inequity in funding persists. Public schools and institutions of higher education with the greatest concentrations of poor and minority students still have the least funding in this state.

We have also missed the mark on college graduation. Texas has the greatest number of NCAA institutions in the nation and the greatest number of institutions in the bottom 10 percent of graduation rates. Thirteen out of the 19 largest public universities in Texas graduate less than half of their students.

And we have missed the mark on graduate and professional studies. The number of doctoral degrees awarded in our state – degrees for our future engineers, researchers, doctors, professors – recently declined. The number actually dropped by a quarter of a percent from 2000 to 2003.

The fact is, however, that sometimes, in some areas, we have never set a mark to begin with. For example, Texas is still in the early stages of establishing an accountability system for higher education. A system of accountability measures was just mandated in 2004 and is in its infancy.

We miss the mark on accountability as long as we fail to actively pursue minority participation, fail to set appropriate standards, and fail to effectively measure our progress.

More importantly, we know that if we fail to address these disparities in higher education, we continue to short-change not only our young people, but also our communities, our state and our future.

Policy Solutions

There is obviously much work to be done, and much that we can do. No one of us can do all that needs to be done. But for things to change each of us must begin to take some action. We offer 31 policy solutions as one way of focusing that action.
But to act, in this case, must also mean to inter-act.

In the earlier forums that have led to our work together today, we have talked a bit about this idea of “interaction.” At IDRA, we are convinced that this principle is so absolutely crucial that I would like to revisit that discussion for a moment today.

Inter implies, of course, interrelatedness, interdependence of purposes, of people and of systems. Each of us brings a set of particulars that come from what we do, be it at a university or a community college, in schools, or in a community or business organization. And those particulars are important. The perspectives and insights that we each bring from the four sectors of higher education, elementary and secondary education, and the community are essential to this gathering.

At the same time, there is an opportunity today to look at the challenge of Latino college access and success from a broad platform – one that creates not only common ground but common cause; one that examines state level policies and practices; 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. Many of us are familiar with the saying, del dicho al hecho, hay mucho trecho, there is always a big gap between words and deeds. To produce results, we must move from clear, credible facts to a clear course of action.

As I listened to the many people who shared their ideas and insights during our three policy forums, three consistent themes emerged. These are also the foundations of the policy solutions that we are examining together today.

  • Create Persistent, Accountable Institutions – This means institutions with the resources, holding power and staying power to guide our young people from student to citizen, from learner to leader.
  • Build Bridges for Action – Our success absolutely depends on linking early education to college graduation and on linking classrooms, businesses and communities.
  • Invest in Education for the Good of All Texas – Education is not a private good for the few, but a public good for all. We must invest wisely and accountably, to ensure that we get the most out of higher education for every student.

Create Persistent, Accountable Institutions

To build institutional persistence at the state level, we must develop a seamless state database stratified by regions and counties to follow students from high school through college. The database would build on the current accountability system that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board implemented this past year.

To build institutional persistence at the undergraduate level, we must keep the 10 Percent Plan to ensure isolated and rural students have access to colleges and universities. The 10 Percent Plan ensures that we not return to the days when a large percentage of freshmen at the state’s two flagship universities came from only 20 feeder schools in the entire state.

The 10 Percent Plan, however, means little to institutions along the U.S.-Mexico border, whose populations are already predominantly Hispanic. To address gaps throughout the state, we must expand institutional persistence and invest in innovative practices that increase not only enrollment, but persistence and college graduation.

Build Bridges for Action

To build bridges for action, Texas must create a pipeline that is connected, well resourced and built on persistent institutions. Our policy solutions for achieving this bridging foundation include the following three items.

First, Texas must 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 accelerated curricula across PK-20 (pre-kinder through graduate school), reducing the need for duplicative testing required for college entrance and helping to construct a seamless pipeline.

Second, Texas must create 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. Right now, if you are thinking about going to college, you must already understand the college admissions process and know what institution you want to attend before you navigate the maze of information. Using a “learning communities” model, community-based student and parent outreach and recruitment centers would provide information concerning admissions, financial aid, concurrent enrollment, and scholarship and employment opportunities – all done in partnership with high schools, colleges and universities, and public libraries. Such centers would foster parent involvement and both symbolically and concretely engage community and business leaders in the shared responsibility of educating our young people.

Third, Texas must require a half-credit high school transitions (“planning for college”) course to be taken by all juniors and seniors. The current offering of a one- or two-day session in a career-planning center or individual visits to a counselor’s office is insufficient to make high expectations a reality for our Latino public school students. Making “Planning for College” a requirement for all would send a clear message to students that college is not just for a privileged few but rather should be accessible to all. It would encourage students not just to “look for a job” but to “plan a career.” No one is born with an innate sense of how to transition from high school to college, and for many Latino students no family member can provide that insight. This course would provide students with a solid foundation by teaching them how to research colleges and universities; by providing in-person support on how to complete college admission, financial aid and scholarship applications; and by helping families to guide students’ career planning.

Invest in Education for the Good of All Texas

It is not enough to persist and bridge, if we do not also invest wisely in public and higher education as a public good. Texas will need to locate additional revenue resources to do all that is still needed.

How is it that at a time that state leaders think they can find emergency funding for Texas prisons whenever they need it, they cannot locate the funding for Texas’ public education?

We believe that we Texans are a fair-minded and a practical people. It is unlike Texas to create a system that imposes artificial barriers – barriers that prevent our students from maximizing their talents and gifts. Given the workforce needs of our state, it is not only unfair but impractical to prevent a student from going to college because she cannot afford the SAT fees or because he cannot access financial aid or get into the right networks.

But as long as education is under-resourced in Texas, those are the barriers that our young people face. It is unlike us Texans to have a system that keeps hard-working students who happen to come from low wealth school districts from reaching the highest level of achievement that their own hard work earns them.

We all know that investing in public education is not a free ride. It is merely about giving all students a fair shot. To give all our young people a fair shot, Texas must increase “need-based” funding, such as money for the Texas Grant and Work Study Program. Texas grants are critically needed in light of federal cuts, and work-study programs do not just make college more affordable, but help connect students with the university and with the community.

Texas must also establish a growth increment for unique institutional needs and characteristics. Weights would take into account, for example, such factors as growth and geographic location. While the University of Texas at Austin is trying to reduce its student enrollment to have a student-to-faculty ratio competitive with other top-tier institutions, enrollment at University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Texas Pan American is swelling.

State demographers for years have predicted that the highest concentration of growth over the coming decades will be in urban areas and along the Texas-Mexico border. UTSA officials, for example, predict its enrollment of 25,000 students will grow to at least 43,000 by 2030. The state must allocate funds accordingly, providing for a growth increment in higher education funding for hypergrowth institutions such as these and others around the state.

The Benefits of Success

Some may ask us how this state will benefit if we get more Latino students into and through college. Higher education is fundamentally important not only for individual students and families, it is good for our businesses, our communities and the state as a whole.

By addressing disparities in higher education, we are building a stronger workforce and economy. By addressing barriers to higher education today, we are meeting our state’s workforce needs for the future. By investing in access and success today, we are building a Texas that can successfully compete in the emerging global marketplace. By investing in education today, we pave paths to higher income, boost Texas’ tax base and expand our state resources. By investing in access and success in higher education today, we also build leadership and civic participation.

When Justice Sandra Day O’Conner cast her deciding vote in the Michigan case (Grutter vs. Bollinger), her decision hinged on a recognition of the strong relationship between higher education and leadership. She pointed out, “Universities… represent the training ground for a large number of our nation’s leaders.” And she emphasized, “In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of our citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.”

According to the 2004 Measuring Up study, if all ethnic groups in the state 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 tax revenues. That is $31.4 billion of personal income pumped into economic vitality for Texas instead of what some have called “economic anorexia.”
To do all this, we must move from isolation to interaction.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “We are all caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Truely the success of my children, the success of your children, and the future of Texas rest on educational access and success for everyone.

We at IDRA firmly believe that when it comes to expanding institutional persistence, to building bridges and to investing in higher education, the solutions do not come from a single massive program or decree, but from our interactions around the state – from Abilene to Zapata, from kindergarten to graduation, from the boardroom and classroom to the capitol, from the family to community.

It is time, then, that we interact, but more importantly that we begin to act on what we know is needed. Act now, act strategically, act fairly. Your charge for today is not only to think about the policy solutions that we are recommending, but to consider what actions you can take individually and collectively to move these from abstract ideas to actual and comprehensive reforms.

The future of our young people, our state and our nation is after all in our many, diverse, collective and very capable hands.

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: Intercultural Development Research Association

Read the policy solutions [pdf]

María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., is the IDRA executive director. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@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.]