Tuesday, September 21, 2021

"University of Texas hits record undergraduate Hispanic student enrollment," by Megan Menchaca

This is historic. The University of Texas at Austin is now an "Hispanic Serving Institution," or simply, an "HSI." HSI's are the federally-designated analogue to "HBCU's," Historically Black Colleges and Universities. What an achievement! Dr. Deborah Parra Medina's comments in this piece by journalist Megan Menchaca are on point. Becoming an HSI will benefit students and the campus writ large.

It is about time that the student body look like Texas. We also need many more Latina/o faculty since the research literature shows that having faculty that reflect your background contributes to positive educational outcomes for all students, most especially for those of color throughout the P-20 pipeline. The issue of the under-representation of Latina/o faculty is a major point taken up in the benchmark October 8, 2019 "Hispanic Equity Report" that is largely about pay equity. The HER was authored by the Independent Equity Committee comprised of eight Latina/o full professors at UT. 

Inspired by the faculty authors, there is now a parallel  report issued by the University of Texas’ Hispanic Faculty and Staff Association. Hence "servingness" is both process and goal that if executed well and in good faith, promises to yield dividends to our state and nation far into the future.

A published study by Dr. Frances Contreras (2017)—who is now the Dean of the School of Education at the University of California Irvine—speaks directly to this problematic of an under-representation of faculty in our nation's higher education institutions by underscoring key findings on faculty diversity in the research literature:

"Faculty diversity plays a key role in providing students with access to mentors, role models, diverse perspectives and approaches to pedagogy in college which helps to challenge the world views of college students and helps them to develop their critical thinking and analytical skills (Hurtado, 2001; Hurtado & Ruiz, 2012, Hurtado & Ruiz Alvarado, 2015; Umbach, 2006; Turner, 2015). Diverse faculty are more likely to mentor students of color, have larger advising loads than their peers, are more engaged with student organizations, and are called to service more often than non-diverse faculty (Baez, 2000; Griffin, 2012; Lopez Figueroa & Rodriguez, 2015; Turner, 2015). Lopez Figueroa and Rodriguez (2015) for example, present a new framework for the mentoring, acknowledging how “mentoring is a racially and culturally mediated experience, instead of a race neutral, objective interaction” (p. 23). That is, for students of color operating in the meritocratic hierarchical academy of higher education, mentoring is often happenstance, and less targeted for students of color. We see this when students of color lack mentors from their fields due to the dearth of Latino or faculty of color in their departments, where they are left to find mentors on their own, often from different fields of study (Lopez Figueroa & Rodriguez, 2015). Exposure to diverse mentors is an important element to academic success, post graduate aspirations and preparation." (Contreras, 2017, p. 223)*

UT's College of Education Dean Charles Martinez points to the fertile ground we already have for our university's newest entrants. To them, I would ask them to consider taking Mexican American Studies courses in the Department of Mexican American and Latino Studies. Other excellent options are Native American and Indigenous Studies, as well as African and African Diaspora Studies. As the most diverse college at UT, check us out in the College of Education, too.

I know that when I was in college, taking these courses contributed positively to my sense of identity and belonging while strengthening my intellect and giving me a community in spaces where I otherwise felt alienated and vulnerable because there were such few people at the university who either looked like me or who shared my origins as a minoritized student from West Texas. 

So becoming an Hispanic Serving Institutions or "HSI" is definitely a high- water mark for our university, but much more must be done for "servingness" to engender the positive outcomes that we seek. As for faculty and staff, pay equity and supportive working conditions are essential. 

Another good first step is to simply do everything possible to retain our excellent, highly-competitive faculty at the university lest they be taken up by other institutions that offer them more higher salaries and support. Aggressive recruitment, pay equity, and opportunities to assume positions in the administration of the university also go hand-in-hand. 

For now, let's all pause and take a breath, knowing that the universe is moving in the right direction. Hats off to all the hard work of the UT’s Hispanic Serving Institution Transition Committee on which I also serve.

-Angela Valenzuela

*Contreras, F. (2017). Latino faculty in Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Where is the diversity?. Association of Mexican American Educators Journal11(3), 223-250.

University of Texas hits record undergraduate Hispanic student enrollment

Megan Menchaca
Austin American-Statesman |Sept. 20, 2021

Hispanic undergraduate students at UT

The University of Texas hit a record percentage of Hispanic undergraduate

 students enrolled this year, surpassing for a second year the threshold

that qualifies the institution for federal money designated for schools 

with significant numbers of Hispanic students.

The number of Hispanic students at UT has steadily increased over the 

past decade. In 2011, about 20% of undergraduate students at UT 

identified as Hispanic, compared with 27.1%, or 11,087 undergraduate 

students, this year, according to new enrollment data obtained by the 


Luis Zayas, co-chair of UT’s Hispanic Serving Institution Transition 

Committee, said Hispanic enrollment has grown as more Hispanic high 

school students become eligible for admission and university officials 

engage in outreach with students around Texas.

“We have been very active in building a presence throughout the state, 

and our leaders have gone to the various parts of the state, whether it's

the (Rio Grande) Valley, West Texas or Central Texas, to really show that 

we care and we're interested,” said Zayas, dean of the Steve Hicks School 

of Social Work.

More:UT celebrates class of 2020 graduates with long delayed in-person commencement

UT surpassed 25% Hispanic undergraduate enrollment for the first time

last year, qualifying the school as a Hispanic Serving Institution. This year, 

after meeting that designation again, UT will be eligible to apply for three 

grants offered by the U.S. Department of Education focused on enhancing

the quality of such institutions, increasing the number of Hispanic students

in STEM fields and expanding post-baccalaureate opportunities for Hispanic


Deborah Parra-Medina, a Hispanic Serving Institution Transition Committee

 member and director of the Latino Research Institute at UT, said being 

named a Hispanic Serving Institution is important for UT to show the 

community that it is committed to providing high-quality education that 

values the Latino experience along with other student experiences.

“Many of the strategies that we design or implement often positively impact 

other students as well, such as first-generation students or students who are

 financially disadvantaged,” said Parra-Medina, a Mexican American and 

Latina/o Studies professor. “I think people think it's exclusively about the

Latino experience, but actually, it does benefit large aspects of the university


Graduation rates

In addition to growth in Hispanic enrollment, four-year graduation rates

for Hispanic students at UT have steadily increased over the past few years 

despite the pandemic’s disruption of campus life. In 2017, UT’s graduation 

rate for Hispanic students was 60.3%, and that rose to nearly 67% in 2021, 

according to new university data.

Charles Martinez, dean of the College of Education and a Hispanic Serving

Institution Transition Committee member, said among the factors boosting

 graduation rates are the support systems UT provides Hispanic students 

through programs such as the University Leadership Network, college-

specific initiatives and affinity student organizations.

“We surround (Hispanic students) with professional support, career 

development and skills that they need to navigate a pretty big place like UT,”

 Martinez said. “I think that the seriousness of the wraparound services 

that we provide during those first two years in particular are really impressive, 

and there's no doubt that they are a big contributor to our graduation success.”

More:UT ranked as No. 10 public school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report

In 2020, UT received the Seal of Excelencia, a national certification for

 universities serving Latino students. The seal was awarded by Excelencia in

 Education, an organization focused on improving Latino college student

success, which cited UT’s efforts to foster a sense of belonging among Latino


Room for improvement

Still, UT’s undergraduate student demographics do not match the demo-

graphics of the state or the students in K-12 schools. Census data show 

that 39.3% of Texans identify as Hispanic or Latino. According to the Texas

 Education Agency, 52.8% of students in the state’s public schools during 

the 2019-20 school year were Hispanic.

Zayas said UT is hoping to see more Hispanic students in the future to 

reflect the population of Texas, but he said it will take time because there 

are generations of families that have not had access to higher education.

John Morán González, a member of the Hispanic Serving Institution 

Transition Committee and a UT professor, said the university has an 

obligation as the state’s flagship university to look like Texas. However, 

he said UT also must ensure that Hispanic students succeed at 

comparable levels and have the tools, resources and programs on campus 

to help them graduate and achieve other goals.

UT “is creating, helping shape and train the next generation of leaders in

all professions,” said González, former director of UT's Center for Mexican

 American Studies. “That means that it has to be responsive to its 

constituency in Texas. And as the recent census data shows, this is 

increasingly Hispanic.”

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