Grants awarded to the College of Education fund research to improve educational experience of UT’s Latino students

David Engleman

Latino graduation rates and college engagement will be a new focus of the College of Education after The Kresge Foundation and the Greater Texas Foundation awarded the program two grants totaling $437,000. 

The research will aim to develop an action plan to address the low transfer-rate of Latino students from community colleges to four-year universities and the challenges Latino students face when they transfer. The research will be conducted by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Administration and will analyze data from CCCSE surveys and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

Kay McClenney, the director of the CCCSE, said all students face challenges when they transfer from community colleges to four-year universities but those challenges are “exacerbated with subgroups of students who are more likely to be first-generation college students, more likely to have graduated from high schools with inadequate counseling support, [and] more likely to rely on financial aid.”

McClenney also said Latinos face additional problems when they transfer to universities that are less ethnically diverse than their community colleges.
“Attention needs to be paid to matters involving cultural heritage and identity, so that students can quickly come to feel that they are socially, as well as educationally, connected with their college,” McClenney said. 

While the CCCSE and the NSSE have been providing universities and community colleges with data for years on these issues, this latest project increases the emphasis on pairs of universities and community colleges between which many students transfer.
Angela Valenzuela, a professor in the College of Education and the director of the Texas Center for Education Policy, said it is important to identify the achievement gap as an “opportunity gap” rooted in underpriviledged circumstances. Valenzuela and McClenney both identified financial circumstances and poor schools earlier in Latino students’ lives as causes for this gap. 

Biology senior Daniel McFarlane, Transfer Student Association president, said the transition to the University is a “complete culture shock” for transfer students.

“It’s like going from 13th grade to an entirely different world,” McFarlane said. 

McClenney emphasized the importance of the research saying that the issue needed serious attention. 

“In Texas, our future — in terms of both fiscal prosperity and societal health — truly depends on our commitment to ensure that much larger numbers of Latino students progress successfully through the public school system, through the community colleges and on to completion of a baccalaureate degree,” McClenney said.