Growing up, college never occurred to Laura Varela. Her parents barely finished middle school, and like most of her friends, she assumed she’d graduate from high school and find a job to pay bills.
But a school counselor saw potential in the teenager and suggested she consider college—even helped guide her through the sometimes laborious admissions process. Now a UT Arlington student, Varela helps teenagers forge a path to college as a mentor at Lamar High School in Arlington.
“College was not remotely on my mind, but the counselor told me, ‘You’re a smart girl. You can do this,’ ” recalls Varela, who completed a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and is pursuing a second degree in management. “For a lot of kids, college is not part of the equation. They just want to finish high school and get a job. We’re trying to change that mindset.”
Through its Bound for Success, GO Centers, University Crossroads, and other programs, UT Arlington provides avenues for promising high school students to complete their studies and pursue a degree. Many of these students come from low-income families, historically underrepresented among university populations.
According to the Pew Research Center, college enrollment among low-income students increased over the past several decades, but the 2007-09 recession eroded recent gains. In 2012, 50.9 percent of low-income high school graduates enrolled in a two- or four-year college. Enrollment among middle- and high-income students grew to 64.7 and 80.7 percent, respectively.
Established in 2013, Bound for Success aims to close this gap. A partnership with the Arlington, Grand Prairie, and Mansfield school districts, the program provides deferred, unconditional admission to high-achieving high school graduates, as well as advising support to help students prepare for college. The collaboration seeks to strengthen local communities and the workforce while increasing opportunity.
“A college education provides students with a spirit of discovery, inquiry, and creativity, as well as a sense of community—all of which enable them to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing world,” UT Arlington President Vistasp Karbhari says. “Bound for Success is a warm welcome from UT Arlington to each and every student who aspires to a level of achievement and success that only a college degree can provide.”
Building A College-Going Culture
Alumna Rebecca Esposito sifts through papers on her desk at Mansfield High School, reviewing student records. She is one of nine Bound for Success counselors who meet with students to discuss their options, organize financial aid workshops for families, and arrange campus tours.
Some of the students already plan to attend college; others are unsure. Esposito ’10, the first in her family to attend college, can relate.
“I knew so little before I went to college that I had to ask really basic questions, and knowing where to turn was daunting. My parents tried to help, but this was new to them, too. As a counselor, students know they can ask me anything. I understand what they’re going through.”
Bound for Success, which launched in Arlington schools and expanded to Grand Prairie and Mansfield in 2014, is tailored for each district. In Arlington and Mansfield, the program serves high school students ranked in the top 25 percent of their class and offers them early admission to UT Arlington, provided they earn a high school diploma.
In Grand Prairie, Bound for Success serves every junior from three high schools, with requirements based on class ranking and SAT or ACT scores. Students in the top 25 percent of their junior class receive deferred, unconditional admission. Those outside the top quarter may earn admission by meeting minimum SAT or ACT scores and other criteria, such as earning credit through the Tarrant County College or Dallas County Community College districts.