Lessons on Serving Latinos from the Border

New report considers "scalable" models from eight colleges near the Texas-Mexico line.
December 5, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Excelencia in Education's latest report stemmed from a simple premise. "Who's enrolling and who's graduating Latino students in this country?" Deborah A. Santiago, vice president for policy and research, asked and answered Thursday at a briefing on the policy group's new report, Accelerating Latino Student Success at Texas Border Institutions: Possibilities and Challenges.

“These are not institutions that we often think of as the top tier, the top institutions. But they’re getting the job done,” Santiago said at the briefing for policymakers on Capitol Hill.

The report considers four community colleges and four public universities where Hispanic enrollment tops 75 percent. These colleges collectively have committed to increasing Hispanic student enrollment and degree completion by 50 and 90 percent, respectively, over 10 years, by 2015. “They’re committed to accelerating without any new resources. Now does that mean they don’t need new resources? No,” Santiago said.

At the briefing, Santiago positioned the resource-poor Texas border institutions as accessible models, sites of replicable and scalable progress, despite the financial limitations of the colleges and their communities. “We’ve got to do better with the resources we currently have,” Santiago said. “It’s not that this is rocket science. It’s a matter of being intentional and being committed and making it happen.”

“In a sense, Excelencia has taken away our excuses,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (which on Wednesday released a "report card" on higher education). “Scale is really the problem now.”

The report, available online, includes examples of strategies intended to improve participation and success at the eight Texas colleges. For example, the report highlights a dual enrollment program in which more than 4,800 high school students enrolled in South Texas College classes last year, and an “Imagine College” program at the University of Texas at Brownsville, intended to complement the Pell Grant for students enrolled in at least 15 credits a semester and earning at least a C average. (The report describes "Imagine College," which covers the balance of tuition and fees for students with family incomes of $25,000 or less, as one of a number of programs at the border institutions “that encourage timely completion through financial incentives”).

The border institutions have also received private funding for various retention and student support initiatives – their assertiveness in seeking public grant and private foundation support is a common characteristic, according to Santiago. “They’re not waiting and they’re not bemoaning that they can’t serve these students."

The report notes, however: “While these institutions rank nationally and statewide in number of Hispanics they enroll and graduate, it is important to note that they do not rank as highly on other important measures such as graduation rates.”

The eight colleges profiled are mostly open admissions, and, on average, cost less to attend than other Texas public colleges. They are: Laredo Community, South Texas, and Texas Southmost Colleges; the El Paso County Community College District; Texas A&M International University; the University of Texas-Pan American; and the Universities of Texas at Brownsville and El Paso.


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