The predominantly Latino communities along the border between Texas and Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley are some of the most impoverished in the nation. The Valley’s residents have long struggled with low educational attainment.
According to a fact sheet from the advocacy group Excelencia in Education, only about 16% of Latino adults ages 25 to 64 in the region hold an associate’s degree or higher–compared with 37% of white, non-Hispanic, adults. About 95% of the K-12 students in the Valley are Latino.
But the higher education institutions in the region are working on major reform initiatives that aim to reverse the trend.
At the University of Texas-Pan American, freshmen with ACT scores of 18 or less or who are not in the top 25% of their graduating class must enroll in course that helps them focus on learning and transitioning into college. About 77% of freshman take the course, which was first created in 2008.
At the University of Texas at Brownsville, high school students can enroll in dual-enrollment courses. The program has grown so popular that about one-third of the university’s students are participants in the dual enrollment program. According to the university, retention rates are higher for college students who were once in the program than for those who did not participate in the program.
State education officials and legislators also are paying attention to the region. Plans are also underfoot to merge the two universities, and to create a medical school in the region at the resulting larger university. Recently, the merger legislation passed the Texas House and Senate higher education committees. The presidents of both universities also support the proposal.
In January, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called on lawmakers lawmakers to approve the merger, therefore allowing the two South Texas universities to be able to access more funds known as the Permanent University Fund. The huge pot of money currently is available to the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems, but not UTPA and UTB.
“I can’t speak for the legislature, but this vision is so compelling, the need is so great, that it can’t help but make sense,” said Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, in an Inside Higher Ed article.