Program works to counter low Hispanic attendance

A recent study found Hispanic students are choosing colleges and universities because they are close to home, which could be good news for schools like TCU that say they want to raise their minority student population.TCU is in the middle of a community that has a high percentage of minorities – especially Hispanics – yet the number of Hispanic students at TCU remains low.

Fort Worth has a Hispanic population that accounts for nearly 33 percent of its total population, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Fifty-five percent of the students enrolled in the Fort Worth Independent School District are Hispanic, according to the district’s 2006-2007 profile.

Last year 3,587 students graduated from FWISD schools. Sixty-six came to TCU this fall. Twenty of those students were Hispanic, said Amanda Sanchez, a research analyst in Institutional Research.

A study conducted by Excelencia in Education, an organization that aims to increase Hispanic achievement in higher education, found almost half of all Latino undergraduates are concentrated at 6 percent of colleges nationwide.

These colleges, which the study called Hispanic Serving Institutions, had low costs, close proximity to home and an approachable campus. All were located in large Latino communities. There are more than 37 Hispanic Serving Institutions in Texas, including private universities such as St. Edward’s in Austin and the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. TCU is not one of them.

The Reasons

TCU is not alone in its low percentage of Hispanic students. Southern Methodist University had a student body last year that was 6 percent Hispanic, according to its fact sheets. Baylor’s freshman class was 9.2 percent Hispanic, according to its factbook.

But this may not be because of anything TCU is failing to do, said Mike Marshall, assistant director of admissions.

“Not many (Hispanic) high school students are aware of how to prepare for college,” he said. “The curriculum that they are taking in their high schools isn’t preparing them for college, so they’re not prepared to make the transition.”

Although 26 percent of the Hispanic Serving Institutions named in the Excelencia study were private schools, for many Hispanic students private schools can be intimidating, said Greg Trevino, director of Inclusiveness & Intercultural Services.

“There’s a perception that TCU is unattainable,” Trevino said. “Many Hispanic students feel that because TCU is expensive, and because of their own financial situation, there’s no way they can afford it.”

Many of the students in FWISD high schools don’t go to college because of citizenship issues, said Roxanne Wueste, academic coordinator for advanced programs at North Side High School.

“We educate a lot of kids who don’t even have a Social Security number, and as soon as they graduate, they become essentially invisible,” Wueste said.

North Side High School, located near the Stockyards, is 94 percent Hispanic. The school has a graduation rate of 40 percent, Wueste said. For many of the families, finances play a big role in whether the students go to college or not.

“A lot of Hispanic families can’t afford for their kids to go to college because they depend on them to work and to help the family survive,” Wueste said.

Despite all of this, North Side had the highest number of Hispanic graduates – five – come to TCU out of all FWISD schools.

Filicia Hernandez, a sophomore business major and graduate of FWISD high school Diamond Hill-Jarvis, said she thinks there aren’t enough programs helping Hispanic students get into college.

“No one really talked to us about college,” Hernandez said.

Another reason TCU isn’t a prime choice for Hispanic students is because of its lack of Hispanic students, Trevino said.

“One reason more Hispanic students aren’t coming here is because they know that TCU is a predominantly white campus, and that the minority population – the Hispanic population – definitely is not very big,” Trevino said.

Hernandez said people find it surprising she was able to attend TCU.

“It seems that most people I talk to find it really rare and quite an accomplishment for me to be a student here,” she said, “not because I had to compete with the largest incoming freshman class at the time, but because I am a Latina.”

Maria Ibarra, a junior movement science major also from Diamond Hill-Jarvis, said one of the main reasons she came to TCU was because it’s close to home.

“I’m very family-oriented, and I didn’t want to go to a school that was too far away,” Ibarra said.

Although TCU is less than 15 minutes away from her home, she said, she still suffered from a little bit of culture shock coming from a high school where the majority was Hispanic to TCU, where Hispanics are the minority. But Ibarra said that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I think it offers a different outlook on American culture for students like me who come from primarily Hispanic communities,” Ibarra said. “You’re forced to interact with people outside of your culture.”

Getting Here

Despite the odds against local Hispanic students who want to come to TCU, there are students who make it here – many of them thanks to a program put in place to bring minority FWISD students to TCU.

The Community Scholars Program is for high-achieving minority students from nine participating local high schools – seven from FWISD, one from Arlington ISD and one from Dallas ISD.

“It was initially set up to go after high schools within FWISD that we didn’t really get a lot of applications from,” said Trevino, who works with sophomore and junior students in the Community Scholars Program.

“We were losing a lot of quality students to schools like Baylor, SMU, Rice, Stanford and Harvard, which are phenomenal schools, but the students weren’t even looking at TCU,” Trevino said.

Right now, the Community Scholar Program has 96 students, 52 of whom are Hispanic, Trevino said.

“This is one way that we’re trying to make inroads with the Hispanic community, by trying to increase the number of Hispanic students here,” Trevino said.

SMU is also actively seeking minority students from the local community.

“We have recruiting specifically for minority students,” said Kathleen Hayden, visits coordinator at SMU. “We have organizations that are affiliated with local high schools. They go to the schools and host on-campus activities directed at bringing Hispanics to SMU.”

Students in the Community Scholars Program receive scholarships that cover about 60 percent of their tuition, Trevino said. The rest comes out of pocket or from student loans or outside scholarships, Trevino said. For most of the community scholars, this scholarship is the difference between coming to TCU and going to Tarrant County College.

“Without my scholarship I would not have been able to attend TCU,” Hernandez said. “This program really gives minority students in the community a chance at a future that would not be readily available to them otherwise.”

The Community Scholars Program was also the deciding factor for Ibarra.

“The other schools I applied to didn’t offer me what TCU offered in scholarships and financial aid,” she said.

Showing the local Hispanic high school students attending TCU is an achievable goal is important, and this program helps to do so, Trevino said.

“I think that we have to show the community that TCU is a good school for Hispanic students, meaning we have to have good programs in place, we have to have a good environment for them to feel comfortable in, and we have to show that our alumni are supportive,” Trevino said.

The Community Scholars Program is the only program in place that directly aims to bring minority students from FWISD to TCU. The program is aimed at the cream-of-the-crop of high school minority students, excluding many students who don’t have good enough grades or test scores.

Trevino said TCU’s goal is not to bring in minority students just because they are minorities.

“I don’t want to see Hispanic students coming in just for the sake of having Hispanic students coming in,” he said. “We need to strive to get the best students to apply and be admitted to and graduate from TCU, regardless of their race.”

The Future

In order to get Hispanic students to TCU, the most important thing is to educate local high school students on what’s available after getting a diploma, Trevino said.

“We have to do a better job of getting out and about in the high schools, letting them know about (the Community Scholar Program), letting them know about going to college period,” he said.

He also said it’s important for current community scholars to get out into the community and spread information about TCU.

Hernandez volunteers at Paschal High School’s Go Center, which helps prepare students for the college admissions process. She also helps with the TCU Minority High School Conference and with College Night.

While Hernandez does her part to bring in more minority students, she said TCU should put in a little more effort, as well.

“While TCU builds on the campus and various programs like Panhellenic and athletics, it would be great if they were given the challenge to build on the ratio of minority students, especially Hispanics,” she said.

Trevino, who graduated from TCU in 1995, said he is happy with the strides TCU has taken to increase its Hispanic population.

“When I graduated, it was only 4 percent, so the percentage has doubled since I was a student,” he said. “They’ve done a good job increasing the numbers, but I think we need to continue to promote what we have in place so that Hispanic students feel they can succeed here.”

From an admissions standpoint, going after strictly Hispanic students isn’t the goal, Marshall said.

“We’re just looking for students who have been successful both academically and personally,” Marshall said. “As an institution, we have a social role to prepare students for anything that they would experience out in the real world, so that when a student leaves here, no matter what their race, they can interact with all kinds of different people.”

In the end, it all comes down to making TCU a better place, Trevino said, regardless of race.

“I would like to see a good quality student coming in regardless of what their ethnicity is,” he said, “because I think that individual would be a lot more open to learning, and that’s our job, to help students learn.