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Building a college-going culture

Dr. Sylvester Perez1

April 2, 2012

Dear SAISD Staff,

SAISD continues its efforts to build a college-going culture, something that will benefit not only our students’ futures, but the future of our city and state.

Consider a 2007 report by former state demographer Steve Murdock. In the report, he warns that if more Texans do not achieve at higher levels of degree completion, Texas stands to lose up to $40 billion in annual household income by 2040. With Hispanics now representing the majority of Texas public school students, boosting degree completion in Texas will involve increasing the number of Hispanics who attend and graduate from college. Hispanics represent more than 90 percent of SAISD students.

SAISD has an intense focus on preparing students for post-secondary education – whether university, community college or technical training. This fall, right out of the gate, high school students started the year on a two-day “suspended curriculum” that focused on college-related activities. The focus has been sustained throughout the year with events such as a District-wide College Night for high school students, as well as similar events at elementary and middle schools, and promotion of the high school GO Centers, which serve as one-stop-shops for college information and help in completing applications. This is just a sampling of the long list of programs and initiatives we have in place to ensure students develop a college mind-set.

We know from data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that 45 percent of Class of 2010 graduates enrolled in college directly after high school. That percentage could be higher because the agency does not track students who enroll in institutions outside of Texas.

One challenge Texas faces is ensuring that students are ready for college-level work when they get to college. About half of the state’s first-time college freshmen are required to take at least one remedial course. Educators, both in public school and higher education, must do more than simply focus on increasing enrollment – they must take steps to ensure that students attending college have the skills to eventually graduate.

In 2010, the American Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., released a report, “Rising to the Challenge,” that charted graduation rates at universities across the country. It compared the graduation rates between Hispanics and whites and found that the gap was most pronounced for Hispanic men, and that Hispanic women graduate at rates roughly equal to those of white men.

The study also found that universities that were successful in graduating Hispanics tended to track their data carefully and put in place interventions aimed at retention, such as “summer institute” programs, multicultural advisers and better counseling services.

Other ways to help close the gaps would be to enhance outreach efforts, increase financial aid (or reduce tuition), develop college plans for every student in high school and develop ways to encourage older residents (age 25+), such as those completing GED programs, to enter higher education.

SAISD will continue to focus on preparing students for higher education. Later this month, our students will join other students in San Antonio to participate in College Signing Day, one of a number events scheduled for the citywide Destination College week, April 16-22.

I support these types of events, but I also believe that the smaller, every day measures taken at individual campuses have an impact. It could mean a designated college T-shirt day or the display of college flags or banners on campus. Most likely, though, the biggest impact will come from setting high expectations and the encouraging words you share with our young children. 

Best regards,
Dr. Sylvester Perez
Interim Superintendent

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