By Dayri Vargas-Osorio
(SAN MARCOS)- Hispanic graduation rates in Hispanic-Serving Institutions in Texas may see its impact in the Texan higher education program Closing the Gaps, a plan that aims to help Hispanic students achieve degrees in higher education.
In Texas, 41 colleges and universities are categorized as Hispanic-Serving Institutions. The schools are selected and reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education.In order to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution, the university or college must have a Hispanic student enrollment of 25 percent or more.
The list of 41 Hispanic-serving institutions is comprised of both two-year and four-year institutions, both public and privates. Texas A&M International University, Texas State University and the University of Texas at San Antonio are among those listed.
Located in Laredo, Texas, Texas A&M International University is one of eleven institutions of the Texas A&M University System and has been ranked by the U.S. News and World Report as the “number one institution with the highest Hispanic enrollment,” in the nation.
Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas has an enrollment of more than 38,000 students as of 2016. The university has been recognized as a Hispanic-serving institution since 2012.
The University of Texas at San Antonio is a public institution with more than 28,000 students enrolled, as of 2016.
The following infographic shows detailed numbers of each institution’s Hispanic presence.
As the U. S. Department of Education tracks these institutions, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities also works alongside these universities and colleges to track the achievements of Hispanic students in the U.S., as well as in Latin America and Spain.
John Moder is a member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities in San Antonio and talked about the mission, work and commitment of HACU to the Hispanic communities and students.
“(HACU) Is a national and international association,” said Moder. “We have about 45 colleges in Latin America and Spain.”
HACU started in 1986 when school and education directors pointed out the necessity of having nationwide Hispanic representation in the education field.
“Hispanics weren’t very much on the national radar 30 years ago,” said Moder as he talked about the beginnings of HACU. “There was kind of a tough need from a group of colleges that felt they were not getting the attention they needed.”
The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities works with its member colleges and universities to promote access and quality of education for Hispanic students around the United States, Spain and Latin America. The association’s mission is to help Hispanic students achieve success in higher education and advocate for diversity in future employment opportunities for them.
In addition to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board works to increase the numbers of Hispanics and other minority students attending college. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board plan is called Closing the Gaps, which began in 2000.
Closing the Gaps focuses in four areas of higher education: participation, success, excellence and research. The plan’s mission is to increase the enrollment of Hispanic and African-American students, the completion of higher education and the integration to a working environment in Texas for minorities.
“We have four goals in Closing the Gaps program,” said David Gardner, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Academic Officer for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “We want by 2030, 60 percent of our 25-to-30-year-old population to have either a certificate, an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree.”
Closing the Gaps started with the purpose of achieving these goals by 2015. As these goals were not achieved by this time, many improvements had been done to the program. To the surprise of the THECB, Hispanic students were more aware of the importance of going to college.
“Part of the Closing the Gaps program is that the Hispanic population needed to know about the importance of going to college,” said Gardner. “When we did surveys and focus groups and various things, it turned out that wasn’t very true at all; this group was aware of the importance of college.”
According to Gardner, the problem wasn’t whether Hispanics knowing the importance of college, the issue was that they were uncertain of how they were going to pay for college. For many Hispanic students and their families, this is the real question.
“I think what holds them back is maybe their economic status,” said Karla Anguiano. “They may think they don’t have them money it takes to go to college.”
Karla Anguiano is an 18-year-old high school student in Seguin, Texas. Originally from Mexico, Karla is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient.
“My college education is important because I really don’t have a lot of opportunities like other people,” said Anguiano. “I’m a DACA recipient and this gives me an opportunity to pursue my dreams in going to college.”
For Anguiano’s parents, it’s very important to help Karla get an education. They have both emphasized to her that education is the key to success and the path to a better future.
“It’s very important for me that my children get a career. It’s for their future,” said Anguiano’s father, a construction worker.
“With everything (Karla) has achieved, she can go to college,” said Anguiano’s mother. “We will always support her goals because we want her go look forward, we want her to have a career.”
Anguiano’s parents did not want their names used because of their immigration status.
Many students see their plans held back by doubts by their economic situation. These doubts prevent them from seeking the aid that’s available for them to use to pursue an advanced education.
Anguiano is aware of the need to better inform Hispanic students in this subject.
“There are opportunities out there like (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and scholarships they could apply for,” said Anguiano. “Some of them don’t realize that since they don’t have a lot of money.”
And it’s a problem the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is aware of. For this reason, the THECB’s Closing the Gaps plan, along with a recent action plan called “60X30TX”, look forward to reaching the Hispanic community with information that will help their students get into college.
“We started campaigns. We got public service announcements that were given to us on TV and radio and talked about where the money is available,” said Gardner. “We have graduates campaigning and working with communities in building a better understanding and essentially working with support groups with parents and teachers to provide information about college and how to make it easier to reach a higher education.”
As Hispanics are more conscious of the importance of a higher education, students and associations like HACU are aware that with the new administration, certain things might change.
“Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric certainly sounded very anti-immigrant and frankly, anti-Hispanic,” said Moder. “I think another area of uncertainty is that he has not a lot to say about higher education, it has been under his radar.”
Both the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board believe it’s too soon to speculate about the future of education under the Trump administration.
For HACU and the THECB, students and higher education are still their main priority.
“You need to be more concerned with making students go to college,” said Gardner. “A lot of people underestimate the ability of students to perform, but students always seemed to step up. Students have much more ability than they understand sometimes.”