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Night of HOPE Dinner

April 13, 2016

Good Evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.  It’s an honor and a pleasure to be here tonight as we celebrate the 20th year of the HOPE Center in our community.  Today, more than ever before, we need three things – education, a commitment from the community to help itself and the people in that community, and hope.  Hope for a future that is brighter than the present, one where the inequities that are widening today become smaller, and one where opportunity exists for our youth to better themselves. 

So before I begin, let me thank all of you who have made these 20 years possible.  You have done a great deal by assisting over 1,800 students – but in reality you have had a far deeper impact – you have helped change families, and our community.  Your impact is not only deep, it is long-lasting.

We live in a world that is beset with challenges.  Poverty is on the rise, as are the inequities between the rich and the poor.  Headlines across all media every day report on increases in unemployment, a range of natural and man-made disasters, superbugs and challenges in health-care, violence and increasing hostility between communities, decreases in social norms, and increasing conflict world-wide.  Our economy appears to be getting worse rather than better with each passing year and this might well be the first time that an entire generation is worse off than the one that preceded it.

Education itself is at a crossroads in more ways than one.  State and federal funding for education are at historically low levels.  One could argue that public education, whether at the level of our schools or universities, is failing us with a greater percentage of parents looking to private institutions to assure quality. 

Student retention and progression are national issues of import and statistics provided by various agencies show that over 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year.  Put another way one student drops out every 26 seconds.  Just think about it – since we started the event here this evening over 230 additional students have dropped out across the US.

Statistics from NSC and NCES show that 36% of students in the secondary education pipeline drop out in or at the 9th grade level.  Put another way, of every 100 students who come into the 9th grade, only 64 will continue through high school, of which only 40 will begin a 2-year or 4-year education.  And of these 40 only 22 will receive an associate or bachelor degree or certificate in 6 years, and only 2 more will achieve that in 8.  This is indeed a challenge that we cannot hide from – it’s a terrible waste of human capital. 

Our educational system was designed for, and worked fairly well, for the traditional student – the motivated student in high school with a family determined that their daughter or son will get a college education; who enters a 4-year university as a teenager poised to have fun but also focused on getting a degree in 4-6 years.  But an increasing percentage of our youth do not fit that neat profile.  They are from single parent families, the first to go to college, and lacking the motivated parents who provided support.  They are older, juggling jobs, careers, family and classes and perhaps not up to the academic standards needed for success.  It is this profile that we must keep in mind since their numbers are increasing and our conventional educational system is not focused on their needs thus resulting in high drop-out levels and significant consequent societal challenges.

Across the US, immediate college enrollment rates have decreased from 70% in 2009 to 66% in 2013.  According to the latest NCES “Condition of Education” report in 2013, the immediate college enrollment rate for high school completers from high-income families (80 percent) was 31 percentage points higher than the rate for those from low-income families (49 percent) and 15 percentage points higher than the rate for those from middle-income families (64 percent).

Let me stop and apologize for a second – I recognize that hearing all these statistics and messages of gloom, especially at dinner, might well tempt some to wonder if this was indeed a night of Despair.  But it’s not - - Education provides a continuing hope for a better future, and there is profound expectation of significant progress because there are tremendous ongoing initiatives, including those conducted by the HOPE Center and by individuals in this room, that show us that this is indeed a night of HOPE and that the future can be extremely bright.

We live in a city that has a unique context for education.  It is one of the very few where the three educational institutions – the school system, the 2-year college, and the research university are joint at the hip.  While each is dedicated to enhancing the excellence of its own instruction and student preparation, we are also committed to ensuring smooth and better pathways and pipelines for all students not just between our institutions but across the entire continuum of ‘pre-K through gray’ ensuring both career readiness and academic success.  Let me spend the next few minutes updating you on initiatives and programs already underway and then provide a glimpse of what you might see unfolding in the future as this team, in Arlington and Tarrant County, could well lead the state and nation.

Before I begin though I’d like to set the context.  For those who have not kept up with the progress at UTA here are a few points of pride.  UTA is currently the 2nd largest academic campus in the UT System with a population of 38,000 students resident in the state of Texas for purposes of an education and over 52,000 when online degree seeking students are included.  We are representative of a true urban university drawing both freshmen directly from high school, a large number of which come extremely well prepared from AISD schools, and transfers from community colleges and other institutions, including TCC-SE which educates some of our most successful students.  In fact over 66% of our class of new incoming students are transfer students, ranking us third in the nation for transfer student population. 

We were recently designated a Carnegie R-1 institution “highest research activity” joining an elite group of the top 115 institutions across the nation, and just last month US News & World Report released rankings of graduate programs that listed at least one program in every single one of our schools and colleges among the nation’s best, and in many categories we trail only Rice, UT Austin and Texas A&M. 

Last year alone we conferred 10,585 degrees, placing us third in the state in the generation of highly skilled intellectual capital behind UT Austin and Texas A&M, both of which have about double the number of schools and colleges as we do. What is even more remarkable is that our very high level of excellence comes at a significantly lower cost to the state.  I’m proud to state that at UTA the cost-per-degree as a function of state allocations has gone down 48.2% since 2003, and when looked at in terms of total revenue, which includes tuition charged as reported by the THECB, it has gone down 8.2%.  And that’s before accounting for inflation and, yes, our national rankings have continued to increase.  Affordability, efficiency and excellence can go hand in hand and this is strengthened by our partnerships with AISD and TCC-SE.

We are involved with a variety of initiatives to nurture and prepare students along this pipeline.  From the University Crossroads program which engages with students as early as the 6th grade and focuses on college awareness, financial aid workshops, and SAT and Math prep classes, to our award winning Pathways to College Access and Readiness program that has served over 23,000 students and 3,000 parents through an emphasis on 24 GO centers in 9 partner districts where UTA mentors help high school students navigate the college admissions process, career exploration and potential financial resources we are building a college going culture while providing early support for students. 

The Bound for Success program is an early admissions initiative that began through conversations with Dr. Cavazos, the AISD Superintendent, who noted that over 20% of qualified graduating seniors in his schools did not even apply to college, with the percentage being even higher among Hispanic students.  In looking at performance, we found that rank in class did not change much between the 10th and 12th grades in these schools.  Based on this we now provide early admission to students as rising juniors if they are in the top 25% of their class in the 10th grade with the expectation that they will commit to completing high school.  A simple gesture in itself but, as we have found, it was a strong motivator with students who had not considered college who are now striving towards it and not dropping out.  The program was initiated with three local school districts, AISD, GPISD and MISD – all feeders to UTA and a single high school in Fort Worth.  In addition to the letter of admission, a UTA Counselor is embedded in each high school to provide guidance including information on maximizing AP and dual credit opportunities and, in one school district, courses through the Project Lead the Way sequence in STEM.  Further, workshops are held for students and their parents to demystify the FAFSA.  In its very first year we saw a 10.6% increase in qualified applicants and the reports from families and teachers have been overwhelmingly positive.

In addition to the Bound for Success program we have established a STEM Academy at Martin High School in the Arlington Independent School District.  Marcelo, Bill Coppola and I are continuing our discussions on how we might better align the early college high school with specific majors and how we might use technology to initiate future early college high schools digitally. 

Just last month, we announced the establishment of a Teacher Academy with AISD as well.  Designed to help attract students to teaching as a career to meet the critical shortage of teachers in Texas, the program enables students in high school to take both dual credit courses from TCC-SE and UTA to complete the core and in addition complete a few introductory upper level courses from UTA towards their degree in education prior to graduation from high school.  The expectation is that these students will not only finish earlier but will return to their high schools to teach. Just think of the impact of having students from the community complete their high school education and university degrees right here and then stay in this community thereby creating a continuous cycle of improvement not just in the educational system but also in the local environment.

But these steps are just the tip of the iceberg.  We must do more and be more innovative.  We must use technology to assist us.  UTA is a national leader in digital and online education and we are now discussing with AISD and TCC how advancements in technology can be used to both engage our students to a higher degree and to enhance our capacity to reach even larger sets of the population. 

Schools, 2 year colleges and 4-year institutions need to work together to provide a seamless pipeline and pathways for students ensuring that curricula are not only aligned but are of a level of rigor that assures the success of students at each stage of their education.  We will be working far more as a team to significantly reduce the level of remediation that takes place with inadequately prepared students at each level.  This will be done by faculty working together, sharing expertise, and developing a common set of expectations. 

For too long now we have complained about the challenges of credit transfer.  We will be working together to ensure that students are both adequately informed and advised about the courses that can, and cannot, be taken for specific majors and that, when selected appropriately, the courses not only transfer but count towards degree completion.  Week after next TCC and UTA will be signing a landmark agreement for sharing of student records for specific purposes that will assist our students towards degree progression.

This is the next step in progression – one that started with the Bound for Success Program, then moved to the establishment of the STEM and Teacher Academies, in the development of a regional master plan.  We envisage a structure whereby students graduating from high school are assured of a path through a 2-year institution to a 4-year university with a guarantee that if a predefined set of courses is completed with a threshold GPA that they would only be admitted to the university in the major of choice but would enter as true juniors.  This might seem challenging but it is not all that difficult and in small ways AISD, TCC and UTA are already working towards the implementation of such partnerships.  This will take us to the next level.

Consider the power of an ISD, a 2-year college, and a nationally leading research university behaving, in terms of student perception and actions, as a single entity enabling ease of access and progression with a guarantee of quality and excellence, enabling them to optimize their time and funding, plan properly and move smoothly from one level to the next.  Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the possibilities – yes, that could happen here and I believe it will.

However, the creation of a highly skilled workforce cannot be the responsibility of educational institutions alone.  We look to our community, including all of you here today, to assist in having pride in your institutions.  As a community we will not advance when we erroneously subscribe to the theory that the best school, community college, or research university is elsewhere – data alone shows that this perception is not true.  Until we embrace the tremendous advances being made locally, and jump in with both feet to support and accelerate them, we have only ourselves to blame when we cast envious eyes at the economic engines in other communities. 

The chamber is already making steps in this direction by providing 100 internships to AISD students – this is a wonderful first step, but far more needs to be done, and I know I speak for Marcelo and Bill when I say that all of us are eager to build new, and strengthen existing, partnerships in the community. 

Arlington has a population of about 380,000 – with over 63,000 students at AISD, over 11,000 at TCC-SE and over 52,000 at UTA the education sector in terms of just students exceeds 126,000, roughly one third of Arlington, and if one includes employees it’s even more.  This could, and will be, the engine that powers the future.

As I mentioned before, education is at a cross-roads.  I believe the path in front of us is clear – it’s one of hope, and one with a promise of a better tomorrow, building on the tremendous investments made by the community over decades in AISD, TCC-SE and UTA.  We are posed together to reach new heights and with it to bring national attention and acclaim to a city that has just recently rebranded itself as the American Dream City – what better way to make dreams come true than through the promise of education and economic vitality delivered by the city’s prime engine – AISD, TCC-SE and UTA.  Together we can and will ensure that hope becomes a reality.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you, and thank you for what all of you do for the community and our future every day.