Report: Duplicate ‘Border’ Colleges Strategy Across Nation

National and state leaders should adopt the effective educational and support strategies of colleges and universities near the U.S.-Mexico border in order to accelerate the academic progress of more Hispanic students, say authors of a report unveiled on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Eight Texas postsecondary institutions have developed “acceleration plans” to help more Hispanic students enroll and graduate from those colleges and universities. As a result, these public colleges are posting a 35 percent jump in enrollment — higher than the state average — and are awarding 30 percent of all degrees and certificates earned by Hispanics in Texas.

The report from Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, says the eight institutions have become “effective laboratories” to evaluate what works with Hispanic students. Specifically, they have narrowed enrollment and graduation gaps between Hispanics and other groups through several strategies:

n       Collaborating with high schools to improve college readiness;

n       Creating “early warning” systems to help students at risk of dropping out of college;

n       Providing grants to students that encourage on-time graduation; and

n       Making a commitment to keep tuition low despite limited state funding.

“This is a moment where business as usual won’t do the job,” said Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education.

In “Accelerating Latino Student Success at Texas Border Institutions: Possibilities and Challenges,” the organization examined practices at four public universities — Texas A&M International University; the University of Texas at Brownsville; the University of Texas at El Paso; and the University of Texas-Pan American — as well as four community colleges: Laredo Community College; Texas Southmost College; El Paso County Community College District; and South Texas College.

Together, these institutions plan to increase the number of awarded degrees and certificates by more than 90 percent from 2005 to 2015, the report said. This rate is more than double the 40 percent increase projected for all public colleges in Texas, a state undergoing substantial population growth and demographic change.

The report recommends that Texas develop a statewide acceleration plan for Hispanic students similar to the border institutions’ model, and the same strategy also may work at the federal level as well. “We’ve got to find ways to bring these programs up to scale,” said Deborah Santiago, chief author of the report.

The study also recommends an expansion of need-based financial aid to help more students gain access to higher education.

But while more money was a popular topic at the Washington, D.C., conference to unveil the report, participants also expressed concern about the harmful effects of possible education budget cuts in state houses nationwide.

“We must put our resources where we know they can make a difference,” Santiago said. But with states likely to cut education spending, the programs most at risk may be student support initiatives such as those documented as effective in this study. “Don’t cut outreach and student service programs,” she added.

The report is part of the group’s Accelerating Latino Student Success project. More information about the study is online at www.edexcelencia.org.

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