UNT Dallas Campus, with assistance from AT&T Foundation, forms plan to improve college readiness, student success
DALLAS – The University of North Texas Dallas Campus will begin taking steps to help improve the college-going rate and level of college preparedness among elementary, middle and high school students in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, John Ellis Price, vice chancellor of the UNT System and CEO of the UNT Dallas Campus, announced Sept. 30.
The UNT Dallas Campus will establish an Office of College Readiness and Student Success and appoint a new assistant deputy vice chancellor to work with school districts, civic groups, and other organizations to promote higher educational standards in area schools. The assistant deputy vice chancellor will also work to increase the Campus' Hispanic student population in order for the future UNT Dallas to achieve status as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and begin receiving institutional enhancement funding under federal Title V.
Additionally, the AT&T Foundation announced at the grand opening of the Dallas ISD's Early College High School at Nolan Estes Plaza Sept. 30 a $1 million grant to the UNT Dallas Campus for its Early College High School (ECHS) initiative. In the initiative, students enroll in an ECHS like Nolan Estes Plaza to complete up to 60 hours of college credit at Cedar Valley College while obtaining a high school diploma. The grant will then provide college scholarships for ECHS graduates to attend the future UNT Dallas.
Gloria Bahamon, currently the director of student services, will serve in the new position, Price said. He added that Bahamon will bring a unique set of gifts to the position.
"Gloria is committed to education and she has experience in working with diverse groups and international students, and in promoting education among populations that are traditionally underrepresented in higher education," Price said. "We want her to work to enroll more students in higher education at the UNT Dallas Campus in order to help the State of Texas achieve the goals of its Closing the Gaps Higher Education Plan."
Bahamon's position is effective Jan. 1, 2009. She said she will begin working to develop a college-going culture in North Texas, primarily by working with parents and community organizations.
"Parents play a huge role in the decision making process of their children with regard to higher education, and that is especially true in the Latino community," Bahamon said. "If we can help develop a college-going culture in families – if we can get parents to see how important education is – opinions will change in the community as well."
Price said he and other administrators at the Campus have expressed concern over the low number of students seeking college degrees, and the poor transfer rate from community colleges to four-year institutions in the North Texas region. He also said that students who enroll are often unprepared, as evidenced by a new report issued by the group Stronger Schools for America in the previous week.
The report, "Diploma to Nowhere," claims that in 2004 – the most recent year with complete data – 43 percent of students in two-year colleges were enrolled in remedial education in subjects that should have been adequately addressed in high school. Nearly 30 percent of students in-four year colleges were placed in remedial classes in the same period. The cost of remedial education, according to the report, was $2.31-$2.89 billion.
According to a recent report from the Texas Public Policy Foundation on the growing costs of remedial education, 38 percent of students in two-year colleges and 24 percent of students in four-year universities in Texas took at least one remedial class in the fall semester of 2006. And according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the state appropriated nearly $190 million on remedial education at two- and four-year institutions in 2002-03.
"It is imperative that we do something and do it quickly before we lose another generation of students," Price said. "But we will not be able to do it alone. We hope that all of our partners in higher education in the North Texas region will help us as well."
Price said the move to focus on college readiness and academic success is tied to the desire of administrators at the UNT Dallas Campus – the future UNT Dallas – to implement high academic standards for the future university and spend no more than necessary on remedial education.
"If you look at the report, four-year universities in 2004 passed along the costs of remedial education to each individual student in the amount of nearly $2,500," Price said. "Families in general only paid for a portion of that, with state governments and the federal government subsidizing the remainder. Regardless of who paid for it, investing those resources in remedial education in the freshman and sophomore years diverts funds away from college-level courses and causes students to spend more time obtaining a college degree."
Peter Johnstone, deputy vice chancellor at the UNT Dallas Campus, said the future UNT Dallas, which will open as the city's first and only public university in 2010, will spend no more on remedial education than necessary.
"That is why we want to focus on student success now. Many students who think they are prepared may, in fact, not be prepared for college. Four out of five students enrolled in remedial classes have higher than a 3.0 grade point average, but in spite of their work they are not prepared for any number of reasons," Johnstone said.
Over the next five years, the Dallas Independent School District – the largest district in North Texas – will graduate as many as 35,000 students. Many of these students will make the choice to further their education, but will find that, for any number of reasons, they are unprepared for their post-secondary studies. Many will take college entrance exams and perform at levels lower than the national average.
The College Board, which produces the SAT, argued in its 2008 SAT Validity Studies that SAT scores still remain a good predictor of how students will perform in college. Most schools in Texas use test scores when a student is not automatically guaranteed admission under the "Top 10 percent rule." If the test is an accurate predictor of future performance, however, Texas students, and especially those in Dallas, will have to make rapid gains.
In a June 2008 report from Raymund Paredes of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), Texas students performed poorly on both the ACT and SAT college entrance exams in the previous year. The average score for students in Texas in 2007 was 20.5 on the ACT and 1481 on the SAT, behind the national averages of 21.2 and 1508, respectively. Average scores on the SAT in Texas improved slightly to 1495 in 2008, according to The College Board.
But scores in the Dallas Independent School District on the SAT and ACT were both below state and national averages. Only 36 percent of students in Dallas County schools enrolled in two- or four-year colleges in Texas in the fall semester following graduation in 2007, according to a report from the THECB.
"This shows us that we need to do more to align standards that transition a student from high school to college with ease," Johnstone said. "And we do not need to focus merely on tests but on critical thinking, writing, math and the sciences. The State has done a good job of this by creating the P-16 College Readiness and Success Strategic Action Plan and adopting college readiness standards in January 2008. Now we need to help implement this at the local level."
In addition to preparing students for college, Price said more students need to be encouraged to pursue education. Under the Closing the Gaps plan, more students are already participating in higher education. But increases were only marginal from 2002-2006.
Overall, participation in higher education increased statewide from 2000-2007 by 0.3 percent, which leaves Texas behind large states such as California, Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania. That is why the UNT Dallas Campus will seek to find ways to enhance the high school graduation and college-going rates in the region.
Stronger Schools for America, a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, is a non-partisan campaign funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation.