Student enrollment in Texas postsecondary institutions has increased and diversified over time.
Between 2007 and 2017, four-year public university enrollment grew by 38 percentage points, and two-year public institutions saw an increase of 12 points. Almost 70% of the Texas postsecondary population are students of color, and about half of students receive Pell grants due to financial need. (2)
In the face of these changes, disparities among racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups persist, and completion remains a challenge for all student groups. Of the Texas students who began 8th grade in 2009, 15% of African American students and 18% of Hispanic students completed a postsecondary credential compared to 31% of White students. (3)
Recognizing these disparities, Greater Texas Foundation adopted equity as one of its core values in 2019. Furthermore, the foundation’s Student Supports priority places a specific focus on supporting efforts to address challenges faced by students of color.
Throughout 2020, Greater Texas Foundation awarded grants to organizations and institutions doing important work to serve students of color. In this annual report, we highlight a few of the foundation’s key partners working to advance equity in higher education.
There is an urgent need, now more than ever, to accelerate student success outcomes through intentional, implementable, equity framed college policies, practices, and student experiences”
- Francesca Carpenter, Director of Equity Initiatives, Achieving the Dream
Almost 70% of the Texas postsecondary population are students of color
In 2020, Greater Texas Foundation awarded a grant to the University of Houston to support Houston Guided Pathways to Success (GPS) schools to mobilize real change to authentically, collaboratively, and effectively address the systemic racial and economic issues that impact the success of their students and communities. Greater Texas Foundation was the first of several funders, including Trellis Foundation, The Powell Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, and Houston Endowment, to support this work.
Houston GPS is a collaborative partnership of 13 public postsecondary institutions in the Texas Gulf Coast-Houston metro region working together to redesign and implement comprehensive strategies that increase student success, retention, and graduation for historically underserved and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, individuals with low incomes, and first-generation college students in the region within the next 10 years.
This project will build the competency of Houston GPS partners to serve students from all backgrounds by gathering evidence related to existing equity efforts and campus climate, as well as learning foundational information and skills to understand, communicate, and impact the climate for equitable outcomes for all students. The University of Southern California’s (USC) Race and Equity Center will provide technical assistance for this project.
The 13 schools in the Houston GPS collaborative aim to close educational equity gaps in 10 years.
Achieving the Dream
We supported Achieving the Dream (ATD) to provide two community colleges, Austin Community College and Lee College, the opportunity to participate in the Racial Equity Leadership Academy (RELA) alongside eight peer institutions from a nationwide cohort. The USC Race and Equity Center facilitates the academy where participating colleges identify a racial equity change effort to pursue on their campus, develop an action plan to achieve the goal over a period of two to three years, and receive support from ATD coaches to successfully execute the plan.
Austin Community College is committed to promoting success for all students, especially low-income students and students of color. RELA presents an opportunity for ACC to continue to scrutinize and remove structural barriers to equity on our campuses and in our community. - Chancellor Richard Rhodes
We are building a new culture at Lee College, and that culture is based on equitable access for all students regardless of their backgrounds. This work is at the very core of our mission to make the world a better place, and our students deserve nothing less. - President Lynda Villanueva
My Brother's Keeper
In 2020, Greater Texas Foundation awarded a grant to Huston-Tillotson University enabling them to expand a national program, My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Scholars, to Pflugerville Independent School District and Elgin Independent School District. The program’s goal is to improve postsecondary attainment rates for young men of color.
Despite COVID-19, MBK Scholars in Austin helped more than 200 young men of color explore their options for further education and training after high school and 70% of them enrolled in postsecondary education. The program also helped school and district officials explore and create systems change that will continue to serve not just low-income students of color, but all students.
Jay McCullar, Director of MBK Scholars in Austin, shared his experiences with the program.
Q: What key lessons have you learned about serving students of color through your work in this program?
I would say I’ve learned three key lessons. First, leveraging cultural wealth is huge. We sometimes go into these communities with a deficit mindset. We have been trying to do a better job of leveraging what they are already skilled in and resources they are familiar with and utilizing that as we build a program around them.
Second, I think you really need to talk to the students and get their feedback and make them partners. They are stakeholders in their education. Sometimes we as adults make decisions for those young people, and we need to have more student interaction, more student involvement, and ensure they have a place at the table.
Third, we need more family engagement. If it weren’t for families being open to us going to their homes, filling out FAFSAs at 7:00 at night or meeting up on a Saturday at the park, we wouldn’t have seen the same successes we did.
Q: You’ve had great success creating an MBK Ambassadors Program in Pflugerville ISD. Could you talk a little bit about that program and the impact it has had?
The superintendent at Pflugerville really wanted to tap into the cultural wealth that was already there by employing recent graduates of the MBK Scholars program to come back and mentor current MBK Scholars. We were able to recruit 20 of the recent graduates from that first cohort to mentor some of our current Scholars that have similar interests or are undecided about their postsecondary plans. With videoconferencing technology, we had more flexibility to engage mentors who were not in central Texas but could do a little mentoring.
The first year of the program was a huge success. Some of the mentees asked their mentors to come to their graduation ceremonies and that was a big win. Pflugerville invited us to expand the Ambassadors Program to an additional high school we’ve never been in, so that’s going to be something new and exciting for us as well.
We purposely paired some of our more savvy Ambassadors with those students who are undecided to help them work on some of the reservations they might have about making a decision about their postsecondary plans. We had two students who were undecided at the very beginning of the year actually apply to college because of their mentorship from the Ambassadors.
Peer-to-peer mentoring definitely works. The right connection matters a lot.
Q: What factors need to be in place at the school district level to effectively serve students of color?
A growth mindset is definitely something that is helpful. You have educators who have been doing this for thirty-plus years. If they are not willing to learn and have that growth mindset, you will hit a wall.
Having district partners identify what could be a systems change that we could all get behind has been a critical starting point to more effectively serve low-income students of color.
Sam Houston State University—ELITE and evolve
In 2010, Sam Houston State University created the Establishing Leadership In & Though Education (ELITE) program to address the low retention and graduation rates for undergraduate minority males on campus. ELITE provides holistic, comprehensive academic and leadership development to more than 200 Black and Hispanic male undergraduates. Program participants engage in extracurricular activities such as small group meetings led by trained peer mentors, service projects, and student-produced guest speaker series. This support has resulted in marked improvements in retention and graduation rates. In under a decade, ELITE has helped cut the degree achievement gap for SHSU’s minority students in half.
Impressed by the ELITE program’s successes, the foundation provided additional funding in 2020 to expand the ELITE program and create a complementary program, evolve, to serve female transfer students.
Greater Texas Foundation interviewed Jose Herrera, Director of the ELITE program, Tiffany Driver, Director of the evolve program, and Edwin Cantu, ELITE graduate and Outreach Specialist for the ELITE program to hear more about their successes.
Jose Herrera, Tiffany Driver, and Edwin Cantu
Q: Students participating in the ELITE program have higher retention rates than their peers. What makes this program so successful?
Jose: Brotherhood. Community. Support. Research shows if you’re an engaged student and you have that support system, particularly with minorities, your engagement and sense of success goes up. Building that community is a huge piece.
Edwin: That community aspect was critical to my experience with the ELITE program. We created a culture of excellence within the program. A lot of it stems from seeing older men who look like us succeeding at levels we had never been exposed to. If you have a community built around that and a 10-year history that this is what we do, you adapt and you grow.
Tiffany: Having dedicated staff members for the program is also critical. We’re not like other programs where the staff person is managing multiple responsibilities. Our multiple responsibilities are our students. They have full access to us any time they need us.
Q: Can you share specific success stories from students who participated in the program?
Edwin: One of my favorites is one of my hometown friends. He came to Sam Houston the year before I did and he got connected to the ELITE program. Because he didn’t know many people from our community who went to college, he overdid the social life and he almost flunked out. But his peer mentor at ELITE checked on him and helped him prioritize his academics. He did a lot better his second semester and he continued developing in ELITE and he became a peer mentor later on. Because of his hard work and dedication, he secured a good job at HP and he continues to help students in the ELITE program. There are countless stories like that where one guy was on the brink but one of his fellow ELITE brothers checked on him and he got his act together and that change in behavior inspired others to join and to continue to devote themselves to the betterment of our community.
Tiffany: Edwin is also a success story! Now, because of our partnership with Greater Texas Foundation, he is able to work full-time in our office. Jose and I can sell our program, but our students are the ones that sell the experience. Edwin now has a one-up on the both of us because he can sell the program, but he can also sell the experience because he witnessed it first-hand.
Jose: Edwin is not your typical college student. He is above and beyond. He is always working on improving himself, and his knowledge base, and he’s an extraordinary role model for these young men.
Q: What key lessons have you learned about serving students of color through your work in this program?
Edwin: Something that helped me and my cohort when I was in the program was seeing the long-term vision. So many of us are first generation. Obviously, we all want to graduate, but to understand we’re also first-generation wealth builders and understand that education not only helps you have better career opportunities but will also ultimately help the coming generations within your family and your community is crucial. Understanding education is just part of the grander vision of your life which is going to be in service to your community. But to do that, students have to understand the economics we come from and the history of our people – why certain things are the way that they are. Just providing a greater context is why a lot of us were driven to blow the expectations out of the water. Once we understood the game, we understood how to maneuver through it. We’re still in the early part of our careers, but I think we’ve got a good head start.
Participants in ELITE outperform both their peer comparison group as well as the rest of campus on several indicators. Retention to the second year is significantly higher for ELITE participants (88% average over the past 5 years) than for minority males (77%) or for all SHSU undergraduates (78%). And ELITE students are more likely to graduate than either their peers or the rest of campus. 58% of ELITE students earn a degree within 6 years, compared to all minority males (45%) and all undergraduates (52%).
2 2020 Texas Public Higher Education Almanac http://reportcenter.highered.texas.gov/agency-publication/almanac/2020-texas-public-higher-education-almanac/
3 THECB 8th grade cohort data – THED: 8th Grade Cohorts Tracked through Higher Education (txhighereddata.org)