Near the Mexican border, the University of Texas uses standards and smarts to help students

In a growing world of skyrocketing college tuition and student loans, Texas-Rio Grande Valley University (UTRGV) is strongly affordable.

Located in Edinburgh, Texas, one hour from the US-Mexico border, UTRGV is a new school that was formed in 2013 through the integration of new campuses and legacy institutions. It enrolls a student organization that is more than 90 percent Hispanic and largely first-generation. The school’s mascot is Workman Vacero, the Spanish for “cowboy” or “cattle driver”, who wears full animal clothing, including gloves, scarves and boots. Designed by students, the mascot’s outfit is full of subtle messages, such as the blue stitching on Vacero’s boots as a symbol of the river in Rio Grande, which joins Mexico and the United States.

More than 60 percent of UTRGV students have low enough income to qualify for the grant. Nevertheless, President Guy Bailey said, “More than half of our students who graduate do not pay any tuition or fees. Most of our students who are eligible for grants don’t pay anything. ”

In addition to Pel, state-funded Texas grants provide up to $ 5,195 per semester for state students studying at Texas public universities. UTRGV closes the gap with its own Tuition Advantage program, which covers the remaining tuition and fees for families earning up to $ 100,000 (this year the cap will increase and fill a few families in this poor area). The school guarantees tuition levels for four years, so there is no “surprise billing” In 2019-20, the average net cost for attendance was $ 917 – less than 12 percent of the ট্যাগ 7,907 price tag for the flagship UT-Austin.

“With first-generation low-income students, you have to start with money,” said Bailey, who himself was a first-generation student. “A lot of kids don’t graduate because they run out of money.”

The press focuses on the failure of higher education, especially with low graduation rates, poor results and massive debt in a large number of low-income enrolled schools. Yet hundreds of post-secondary schools — such as UTRGV— — have their students doing well, providing quality education at a reasonable price. According to a new report by think tank Third Way, such institutions, most of which are regional public colleges and minority service organizations, are tackling income inequality by creating economic opportunities.

According to the Washington, DC-based think tank, UTRGV ranks among the top five schools in the country for promoting economic dynamism. The other four are all in California and Texas, with large Hispanic enrollments: California State University-Los Angeles, California State University-Dominguez Hills, Texas A&M and California State University-Bakersfield. (All of these schools also have high rankings Washington MonthlyIts college guide, which avoids prestige-based metrics for economic mobility and national service.)

The Third Way report, written by Senior Fellow Michael Itzkowitz, ranks the country’s four-year colleges based on the proportion of students receiving the grant, the cost of attendance, and the expected earnings of students after graduation. What emerged was a list of institutions that enrolled a large number of both low- and middle-income students. And Provided a good return on their investment. It may come as a surprise, says Itkovitz, how poorly some of the country’s leading colleges work on this measure. For example, Harvard ranks 847, while Stanford ranks 548. Many state flagships also rank poorly; University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, 701St. For economic mobility, the University of Michigan is located at 535. (UT-Austin is number 347.)

“While some of the lucky ones who enter these institutions have the potential to get very, very strong economic returns, there are a limited number of low- and middle-income students who join these institutions in the first place,” said Itzkowitz. At Harvard, for example, only 11.6 percent of graduate students were recipients, compared to only 16.7 percent of Stanford students.

Cal State schools, at the top of the Third Way rankings, on the other hand, serve the majority of students and the vast majority. In fact, Itzkowitz says in his analysis, the top ten schools enrolled more than 95,000 Pell students in 2019-20 – more than six times the total enrollment by the country’s most rejecting (i.e., “selected”) institutions. “While it’s common to see your private elite Ivy-League schools in the news, other schools are actually keeping their promises. [of economic mobility] Faster for more students, “said Itzkowitz.

Top 20 colleges by economic dynamism
Institution Economic dynamics index rank State Percentage received
California State University-Los Angeles 1 That 68.0%
California State University-Dominguez Hills 2 That 64.8%
Texas A&M International University 3 TX 64.5%
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley 4 TX 62.4%
California State University-Bakersfield 5 That 61.9%
California State University-Stanislas 6 That 59.3%
California State University-Fresno 7 That 59.4%
California State University-San Bernardino 8 That 62.4%
CUNY Lehman College 9 New 56.3%
CUNY John J. College of Criminal Justice 10 New 55.8%
CUNY City College 11 New 54.9%
Elizabeth City State University 12 NC 64.7%
CUNY Brooklyn College 13 New 53.8%
California State University-Northridge 14 That 57.3%
University of North Texas in Dallas 15 TX 56.0%
CUNY HUNTER COLLEGE 16 New 50.4%
St. Peter’s University 17 NJ 62.3%
University of California-Riverside 18 That 52.8%
California State University-Sacramento 19 That 52.7%
California State University-Long Beach 20 That 51.8%
Source: The third way

Historically, Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions also dominated the Third Way rankings, which Itzkovitz blames for the fact that these schools enroll large numbers of low-income students and, in some states, benefit from generous state funding. .

Elizabeth City State University of North Carolina (ECSU) – one of the top three schools nominated under the NC pledge, the HBCU state’s leading tuition subsidy program, analyzed by Itzkowitz. State students in NC Promise Colleges pay only $ 500 tuition per semester, while out-of-state students pay $ 2,500. In contrast, flagship UNC-Chapel Hill runs in-state tuition for $ 7,019 and $ 34,882 for out-of-state tuition.

Capability, however, is only part of the equation. The top schools in the Third Way report also specialize in helping their graduates get well-paying jobs, which university leaders blame on their schools ‘strong relationship with their community and deep understanding of their students’ needs. Guy Bailey, president of UTRGV, for example, says his students have access to extensive academic counseling services (often from former first-generation students) and job opportunities on campus. (“If you can work on campus instead of going to McDonald’s or Walmart or something like that, we can work better with you to make sure you get your classes and work done,” Bailey said.) As a result, 80 More than three percent of first-year students return to their second year, putting UTRGV at the top of the Texas University system for retaining students.

ECSU, meanwhile, works with local, regional and national employers, so there is a pipeline for student employment as soon as graduation. For example, the school’s aeronautical program, unique to the state, entered into a partnership in 2020 with United Airlines, which has already retained multiple graduates. “They’re not just looking for my flight students,” Chancellor Carrie Dixon told Kevin Kerry of the New America Foundation at an event last October. “They are looking for students in accounting and finance and business. “They are watching the whole operation of United Airlines and we have employment opportunities for our students.”

The presence of schools like UTRGV and ECSU is great news for higher education and low income students. “There are many institutions that do not appear in the mainstream media that serve students very well,” said Third Way’s Izkovitz.

On the other hand, the continued dominance of a handful of schools in popular college rankings and Washington policymaking is worrisome. Affordable, high-quality schools may not have the resources needed to sustain their work. Students attracted to brand-name schools may overlook excellent but unpublished institutions in their own backyards and miss valuable lessons on how other institutions can improve their practices. The ideologically driven struggle over elite school enrollment standards and campus culture obscures the big issues for most American students to move forward. Many schools that serve low-income and first-generation students are not like UTRGV or ECSU. According to a new report from the Georgetown Center for Education and Workforce, in almost one-third of the country’s colleges, more than half of students earn less than a high school graduate.

But the tide could be turning. In addition to ranking alternatives like the ones produced Washington Monthly And thirdly, the newly announced Carnegie classification for higher education institutions will also reflect school performance on social and economic dynamics. Measuring what matters can ultimately improve everyone’s game and bring about much-needed improvements

“American higher education needs to restructure itself, realizing that its past is not going to be its future,” said Guy Bailey, president of UTRGV. “We need to rethink what we do, and I think you start with the students and what they need.”

Higher education will be better if you follow the example of UTRGV.

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