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Hispanic enrollment still lagging

San Antonio Express-News  (10/11/2002)

By Matt Flores

Despite growing efforts to increase Hispanic enrollment rates at Texas’ public institutions of higher learning, the state is predicting it will fall short of its 2005 targeted goal by almost 45,000 students, a state education official said Thursday.

“If you need to be fired up, the data is there,” said Cathy Obriotti Green, a member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Green spoke briefly at a local planning meeting of higher education and civic leaders preparing for next month’s local launch of the board’s “Closing the Gaps” campaign.

The effort sets its sights on, among other things, boosting the number of students — particularly Hispanics — attending higher learning institutions.

While the state seeks to enroll 340,000 Hispanics in higher education institutions by 2005, public colleges and universities themselves have set their collective target at 295,600.

The great disparity in enrollment goals highlights an unspoken tension between the state’s ambitious plan to dramatically increase the number of college graduates and the schools’ ability to serve them, some higher education officials said.

In short, university officials aren’t sure they can meet the state’s charge.

“What assumption are we going to make about financing that is needed to make those gains?” asked Arthur Smith, chancellor of the University of Houston System. “And what assumptions are we to make about bricks and mortar funding?”

The state board based its goals primarily on demographics, or state population growth.

College and university officials looked at population trends and school capacity. That led to conservative projections.

“There is a very complicated science to this,” said Joanne Smith, director of enrollment management for Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. “But you have to look at growth in terms of capacity.”

The Closing the Gaps campaign, which launches statewide on Nov. 15, takes its name from a 2000 study charting a course for sizable strides in higher education enrollment and graduation rates.

The plan also seeks to increase the level of excellence and research at Texas’ public institutions.

The report was so named because it seeks to close gaps in college participation and success that exist between minorities and nonminorities — and gaps in excellence and research funding that exist between institutions in Texas and those in other states — by the year 2015.

Citing new figures provided to a board committee two weeks ago, Green said institutional goals are dramatically lower than those of the state, which wants 584,000 Hispanic students by 2015. Institutions set their 2015 target at 438,844, about 145,000 students fewer than state officials say Texas needs to have a sufficiently educated work force.

Because some institutions already have exceeded some goals, the board is asking institutions to up their projections, bringing them closer to the board’s goals.

Lawmakers have shown heightened support for measures that increase college participation rates, especially over the past two years.

“This is critical,” said state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who sits on the Senate Education Committee. “My worry is that, at the very moment the Legislature needs to be making an investment in higher education, this comes at a time when it least can afford to.”

She alluded to the state’s projected budget shortfall of at least $5 billion, as forecast by Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander after the 2001 legislative session, for the coming biennium.

Legislators repeatedly have said they expect to face critical challenges with respect to budget items when they convene in January.