Texas' population is booming, with nearly 28 million residents counted in the 2016 U.S. census. That is an increase of about 2.7 million people since 2010, and the data shows that more than half of that increase is attributed to the state's growing Hispanic community. Public schools in Texas have become majority-minority, with Latinos composing 52 percent of the student population.
While more than 3.5 million Hispanic students in the U.S. were enrolled in public and private colleges in 2016—a number that continues to grow each year—the population remains the most underserved and underrepresented in higher education. In fact, even though more Hispanics are getting a postsecondary education than ever before, a 2016 Pew Research Center study noted that they still lag behind all other groups in four-year degree attainment. Among Hispanics ages 25-29, just 15 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher. In Texas, about 38 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 71 percent of Anglos.
“UTA’s demographic changes may serve as a forecast for changes that other higher education institutions across the country may experience in the next decade.”
The disparity between Texas' growing Hispanic population and that population's postsecondary credential achievement is something colleges and universities across the state are working to address. The future of Texas depends on closing that achievement gap. Growing a highly educated workforce means bolstering our state's knowledge, resourcefulness, and productivity. A highly educated workforce leads to more innovation and economic opportunity. Overall, the size of Texas' Hispanic population makes it one of the largest underserved economic resources in the state. Increasing opportunity for Hispanics helps build Texas into an economic powerhouse that will continue to be competitive with countries across the world.
UTA is leading the way in developing programs to meet the needs of this rising demographic as well as our ever-evolving workforce. From the classroom to the boardroom, UTA is building an admission-to-graduation pathway to ensure that all students have every opportunity to succeed. The University's efforts have not gone unnoticed, and after being designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Education, UTA has only continued to garner recognition for its focus on increasing access to opportunity for all students. In 2017, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education ranked UTA among the top universities in the country for conferring degrees to minority students and No. 18 overall for awarding bachelor's degrees to Hispanic students.
UTA is one of only 10 universities in the nation to achieve the designation of both Hispanic- Serving Institution and R-1: Highest Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification.
"[HSI] designation is aligned with the mission of our University, which is to be an internationally recognized research university distinguished by excellence in every regard and by the access we provide to students from all backgrounds," says President Vistasp Karbhari. "It builds on the tremendous diversity, talent, and dedication of our faculty and staff and will help us provide appropriate levels of support to ensure that each and every student has the opportunity to excel in all aspects of their academic careers."
Included in these talented and dedicated faculty and staff members are two prominent UTA administrators, Maria Martinez-Cosio and Michele Bobadilla, who have been instrumental in the University's outreach to its Hispanic students.
For Maria Martinez-Cosio, associate vice provost for faculty development and associate professor in UTA's College of Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs, increasing education access for underserved populations is more than just a job—it's a culmination of a lifetime of experiences.
As an immigrant and first-generation college student, Dr. Martinez-Cosio understands the challenges that students can face when considering college. She learned English as a second language in junior high and did not consider college until a high school counselor encouraged her. She balanced classes and a job driving a bus in order to afford school. After going on to earn a bachelor's, two master's, and a doctoral degree, she is now using her experience breaking down the barriers of entry to higher education to help UTA students.
Martinez-Cosio guided UTA's successful application for HSI designation. As an HSI, UTA is eligible for federal grants designed to assist first-generation students, many of whom are low-income Hispanic students. To qualify, schools must have at least 25 percent Hispanic undergraduate enrollment. As of fall 2017, UTA has a 27 percent Hispanic undergraduate population and serves more Hispanic students than any other four-year public university in North Texas. UTA is one of only 10 universities in the nation to achieve the designation of both Hispanic-Serving Institution and R-1: Highest Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
UTA has taken a leadership role in kicking off Texas’ 60x30TX initiative.
Since being named an HSI, UTA has won a five-year, $2.63 million Department of Education grant to enhance services for transfer, nontraditional, and underserved students. The grant, of which Martinez-Cosio is the co-principal investigator, allowed the creation of the IDEAS (Innovation, Diversity, Excellence, Access, and Success) Center. The IDEAS Center offers access to support services for students in transition, particularly transfer students, veterans, and those from underserved populations. The grant also provides funding for the professional development of faculty members, exposing them to innovative methods of teaching to help them build connections with first-generation students.
Not only is Martinez-Cosio leading outreach and support efforts on UTA's campus, she has also stepped into a national leadership role to advance Hispanic student success. The Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institution Educators recently elected her to a three-year term on the national board.
In 2017, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education ranked UTA among the top universities in the country for conferring degrees to minority students and No. 18 overall for awarding bachelor’s degrees to Hispanic students.
"I see this as a great opportunity for UTA to engage on a national level as an HSI," she says. "UTA's demographic changes may serve as a forecast for changes that other higher education institutions across the country may experience in the next decade."
Martinez-Cosio's efforts have received major recognition, and earlier this year, she was honored with Ford Motor Company's Mujeres Legendarias Award. She was one of just four "legendary women" in North Texas to be recognized as part of a national program celebrating Hispanic women for their commitment to improving their communities and embracing quality, safe and smart innovation, and sustainability.
"I follow in the steps of a long line of outstanding women in DFW and at UTA, and this recognition validates the work of our UTA IDEAS team, not me as a singular author," she says, citing her co-principal investigators, education Associate Professor Carla Amaro-Jiménez and TRiO Director Jennifer Luken Sutton, as two dedicated Latina women who continually inspire her. "I believe that the work that our IDEAS team is engaged with—the partnerships we are developing with academic units, the tutoring we offer students, and the professional development we offer faculty—all will help more strongly connect students who were like me to UTA."
The daughter of an immigrant father and migrant mother, Michele Bobadilla has tirelessly served the Hispanic community for more than 40 years as a champion for educational access and equal opportunity. She sums up her outlook toward working with underserved students by offering her favorite saying: "Adelante y con ganas!" ("Onward and with determination!")
As assistant provost for Hispanic student success and senior associate vice president for outreach services and community engagement at UTA, Dr. Bobadilla heads UTA's University Crossroads. The program aims to improve access to and increase success in higher education for first- and second-generation students from low- to moderate-income households.
University Crossroads was developed with a focus on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's 60x30TX goal to improve college and career readiness across the state. Participants in the University Crossroads program have access to SAT prep classes, one-on-one advising, resume development, and other services to transform their college and career outlooks.
"UTA provides viable college-to-career internships that afford the application of book knowledge with real- world experiences through unique partnerships with industry leaders," Bobadilla says.
One such partnership is with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART). Students selected to participate in the UTA/DART Transportation Leadership Academy cohort receive instruction from and engage with DART corporate professionals at the highest level while receiving financial support to continue their studies. Experiential learning opportunities like this are making Mavericks among the most highly sought-after candidates entering the workforce today.
As a direct result of Bobadilla's advocacy, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation recently named her chair of its new University Partnerships initiative. University Partnerships will help build a robust college-to-career pipeline between HSIs like UTA and corporations that partner with the foundation. Students will get a career boost from enhanced career readiness, and businesses will benefit from a talented, highly skilled workforce. Bobadilla wants to focus on cultivating internship opportunities for students, increasing their skill levels, and providing financial stability since many of these students will be working their way through college.
Bobadilla's decades-long endeavor to increase access and success for students, both in their educations and their careers, has earned her recognition from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, which awarded her its 2018 Medallion of Excellence. The honor is given to exemplary individuals who are role models and outstanding civic citizens for the Latino community, and Latino youth in particular. Winners must have at least a 15-year record of contributions and accomplishments in their field, with solid leadership and community involvement.
Bobadilla has long been an outspoken voice for underserved students, particularly Latino students from economically disadvantaged households. She believes she has lived the promise of America and what the country stands for, remembering the Latinos who have come before her.
"I know how a diploma can transform one's trajectory and change a family for generations," she says. "I pledge to be a standard-bearer by using my voice as an advocate for change."
Martinez-Cosio echoes this, noting that the success of students who benefit from UTA's assistance will have a ripple effect within their communities. "I can't think of more important work to do."