Sunday, July 05, 2009

UT chancellor sounds alarm on higher ed

By GARY MARTIN | Houston Chronicle
June 30, 2009

WASHINGTON — University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told Latino leaders Tuesday that the lack of educational attainment, particularly for minorities, is “a gathering storm” that threatens America’s competitiveness.

With only three-fourths of U.S. teens graduating from high schools and only 39 percent of high school graduates entering college, the country is losing a competitive student pipeline for professions that include medicine and health care, the UT leader told the Latino Leaders Network.

“We can no longer risk complacency as we face a looming storm,” said Cigarroa, who was being honored as the 2009 Nambe Eagle Leadership Award recipient for his contributions to the Latino community and his achievements in medicine and academia. “We must ensure that the student pipeline remains wonderfully competitive, diverse, open and bountiful.”

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that minorities are expected to comprise 54 percent of the overall student population in 2050, and Cigarroa said that more must be done to improve their opportunities in health care, medicine and other fields.

“It pays multiple dividends by helping students enter a profession and improving the availability of health care in a chronically underserved region,” he said.

A native of Laredo, Cigarroa reflected on his South Texas upbringing in his speech to 400 people at the Capital Hilton. He recalled leaving the mesquite and brush years ago to attend Yale University.

“The most difficult transition in my life was that transition from Laredo to Yale,” Cigarroa said to laughter from a crowd of lawmakers, public officials and students.

When he later left a medical residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to take a position at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, a colleague told Cigarroa he was “committing academic suicide.”

But Cigarroa later became president of the University of Texas Health Science Center, and was named chancellor of the entire University of Texas system in January.

Mickey Ibarra, founder and chairman of the Latino Leaders Network, said Cigarroa’s accomplishments in surgery and medical research “make him one of the foremost Latino medical leaders in the world.”

A pediatric and transplant surgeon, Cigarroa received a bachelor’s degree from Yale and his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

In 1997, he was part of a surgical team that split a donor liver for transplant into two recipients, the first time the procedure was performed in Texas.

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