“The future of TAMU will be increasingly bonded to the Latino population. The generation of state funds to support TAMU and its ambitious goals will increasingly originate from Latinos, a group that has been disproportionately underrepresented at TAMU. Latinos and their political representatives will demand greater Latino access to TAMU.”
- Rogelio Saenz, Ph.D., Sociology

Latinos/as Rising: The Future of Latinos at Texas A&M
Rogelio Saenz, Ph.D.

Over the last several decades, Latinos have changed the face of the U.S. population and will continue to alter it even more in the 21st century. Indeed, Latinos contributed approximately two-fifths of the growth of the U.S. population between 1980 and 2000 and they are expected to account for nearly half of the country’s projected population growth between 2000 and 2030.1 As such, Latinos will increasingly impact all societal institutions—economic, family, health, political, religion, and education. Higher educational institutions will increasingly be called upon to help prepare Latinos for an increasingly diverse, technological, and global workforce.

Because of its large Latino population, Texas stands to be a leader in the production of Latino college graduates in the 21st century. The Latino population is projected to become the largest racial/ethnic group in Texas by 2013.2 The changing demographics of the state will likely result in its higher educational institutions increasingly drawing Latinos as students and educations. As one of the primary universities in Texas and with ambitions to join the ranks of the ten best public universities in the United States, Texas A&M University (TAMU) has the potential to play a leading role in the education of Latinos.

This essay has three objectives. First, it provides an overview of the presence of Latinos at TAMU. Second, the essay describes the changing demographics of Texas and the rising prominence of Latinos. Third, it discusses the challenges and opportunities that lie before TAMU in the recruitment and retention. The essay closes with my own personal reflections.

The Presence of Latinos at Texas A&M University Today

In the fall of 2005, 4,542 Latino students were enrolled at TAMU, constituting about one-tenth of its nearly 45,000 students. Latinos accounted for 11 percent of undergraduate students and nearly 7 percent of graduate students. However, certain trends provide some hope for increasing the number of Latino students. For instance, while the number of white undergraduate and Ph.D. students declined by 0.6 percent between the falls of 2004 and 2005, the number of Latino undergraduates increased by 10.5 percent and that of Latino Ph.D. students expanded by 12.5 percent. Furthermore, while Latinos accounted for about one-tenth of all sophomores, juniors, and seniors, they comprised 14 percent of all freshmen. Similarly, among graduate students, Latinos are best represented at the Masters level.

Latinos are still even more seriously underrepresented among the TAMU faculty. Of the university’s 1,525 full-time and tenure-track faculty in the fall of 2004, only 78 (5.1%) were Latino.4 The presence of Latinos is especially low at the ranks of associate professor and professor, where they comprise only 3 percent and 6 percent of faculty at these ranks, respectively. However, Latinos are better represented at the assistant professor level (8.3%).

In sum, Latinos are underrepresented at TAMU as students and faculty. There are indicators foreboding greater Latino presence at TAMU—i.e., their greater representation among freshmen, Masters students, and assistant professors. Yet, these groups tend to have elevated risks of attrition—freshmen are more likely to drop out compared to undergraduate students that have completed their first year; Masters students are more likely to not pursue and complete a doctoral degree compared to Ph.D. students; and assistant professors must gain tenure to continue their employment after their probationary period. Hence, issues related to the retention of Latino students and faculty need to be of concern to TAMU.

The Demographic Reality: Grounds for Student Recruitment in Texas

TAMU and other universities will increasingly face a demographic reality with a shifting racial/ethnic composition of potential university students. Put simply, Latinos represent the engine of population growth in the state of Texas. For example, while the non-Latino population of Texas increased by 3.2 percent between 2000 and 2004, the Latino population rose by 17.7 percent, nearly six times as fast as the non-Latino population.5 Indeed, the Latino population accounted for 72 percent of the total population growth of 1.6 million that the state experienced between 2000 and 2004. By 2004, more than one-third of Texans were Latino. However, due to the youthfulness of the Latino population, Latinos made up approximately 44 percent of persons less than 18 years of age, with Latinos outnumbering whites—2.7 million versus 2.5 million, respectively.

Major shifts are already underway in the racial/ethnic composition of students enrolled in K-12 public schools. Between the academic years (AYs) of 1990-1991 and 2000-2001, Latinos replaced whites as the largest racial/ethnic group in the state’s K-12 public schools. The relative size of Latinos increased from 34 percent in the 1990-1991 AY to 45 percent in the 2003-2004 AY, while the relative size of whites fell from 49 percent to 38 percent during this time period. African Americans comprised 14 percent of all K-12 students in public schools throughout the period.

Nonetheless, whites continue to constitute the largest segment of high school graduates from Texas public schools . This is due to two factors—Latinos are most greatly represented among the younger age groups and they also have much higher dropout rates than other racial/ethnic groups. Still, the Latino share of all high school graduates from public schools increased from 26 percent in the Class of 1991 to 35 percent in the Class of 2004, while the share of whites declined from 55 percent to 48 percent during this period. The relative size of African Americans among high school graduates remained stable (ranging from 12% to 14%).



Population projections indicate that the state’s youth will become increasingly Latino . While Latinos made up two-fifths of persons less than 18 years of age in the state in 2000, they are projected to account for more than two-thirds by 2040. The relative size of whites among youth is projected to fall from slightly more than two-fifths in 2000 to less than one-fifth in 2040, with the relative share of African Americans expected to decline from 13 percent to 8 percent, respectively.
In sum, the future of institutions of higher education in Texas will be increasingly tied to the Latino population. The pool of potential students and faculty members will be progressively more Latino. Yet, universities, especially those with traditionally low numbers of Latinos, will face numerous challenges and opportunities in the recruitment and retention of Latinos.


Challenges and Opportunities Facing Texas A&M University

As one of the two flagship universities in the state, TAMU is responsible for educating its inhabitants, preparing graduates who will be productive contributors to society and the workforce, and establishing leading research programs . As a land-grant institution, it has the added responsibility for bettering the lives of Texans through the application of research knowledge. The changing demographics of the state present significant challenges and opportunities for TAMU in meeting its responsibilities to the state of Texas.

The future of TAMU will be increasingly bonded to the Latino population. The generation of state funds to support TAMU and its ambitious goals will increasingly originate from Latinos, a group that has been disproportionately underrepresented at TAMU. Latinos and their political representatives will demand greater Latino access to TAMU. The key challenges in the recruitment and retention of Latinos to TAMU are related to the relatively low presence of Latinos on campus as well as their low socioeconomic position. Accordingly, TAMU will need to develop serious outreach efforts to Latino students during the early years of their schooling (e.g., K-6) rather than at later stages (e.g., 11th-12th grades). Because many Latino youth are disconnected from higher education in general and from Texas A&M University in particular, the university needs to develop holistic recruitment models that emphasize the progressive transition of Latino youth from kindergarten to the completion of a college degree (K-16 model). Such a strategy will help Latino children learn about higher educational and career opportunities. Programs can be developed at an early stage to better prepare Latinos for higher education. In addition, high school students can be recruited to participate in summer programs at the university that allow them to gain greater knowledge about TAMU and potential careers that they may pursue.

TAMU also needs to aggressively recruit Latinos to its graduate programs and to its faculty. The establishment of research opportunities and mentoring programs are essential for the successful recruitment and retention of Latino graduate students and faculty. Programs can be developed to invite potential graduate students and faculty to spend varying amounts of time (e.g., short visit, summer residence, post-doctoral fellowships, etc.) on campus to learn about the university and opportunities that it offers.

The successful recruitment and retention of Latino students and faculty will also require improvements in the campus and community climate. Many Latinos feel isolated and not welcome at TAMU. The university and the College Station-Bryan area need to be welcoming and supporting environments for Latinos. Without such an environment, Latinos find it difficult to be socially connected to the university, a pattern that is associated with attrition.

The increasing recruitment and retention of Latinos to the TAMU student body and faculty bring about many opportunities. Throughout its history, the university has consistently responded to changing demographic, technological, and social patterns in the state, country, and world. The changing demography of the state represents yet another important challenge that TAMU needs to address. TAMU has the opportunity to develop linkages to the underserved Latino population and to apply basic knowledge to better prepare Latino students to pursue higher education and to become valuable contributors to the university and beyond. It has the potential to produce a strong cadre of Latino leaders. Given the currently low socioeconomic position of Latinos and their growing presence in the state, the future economic direction of the state and its institutions will depend heavily on the success of today’s Latino youth.

Personal Reflections

I close this essay with my own reflections, as a Latino faculty member who has been at TAMU over the last twenty years. When I arrived at TAMU as an assistant professor in the fall of 1986, I was stunned to find so few Latino students and faculty in a state with a large Latino presence. Subsequent years brought relatively little change, with new small cohorts of Latino students and faculty arriving to replace cohorts that were leaving for a variety of reasons (e.g., students graduating, dropping out, or transferring; faculty taking new positions, not getting tenure, or retiring). Such conditions produced, at best, small incremental growth of Latinos at TAMU.

Over the last few years, through its Vision 2020 plan, TAMU has set bold plans to establish itself as one of the ten finest public universities in the nation. President Robert Gates has designated diversity as one of TAMU’s three key priority areas. Particularly important have been the establishment of scholarships for undergraduates who are first-generation college students and the creation of graduate fellowships for high-achieving students that help diversify the graduate program. These efforts have been somewhat successful, as evidenced by Latinos representing a greater share of the student body than they did only a few years ago. The university’s creation of 447 new faculty positions also has resulted in the hiring of new Latino faculty. In many ways, during my twenty years at TAMU this has been the most fruitful period that I have witnessed in efforts to increase the presence of Latinos at TAMU.

Nonetheless, Latino students and faculty continue to be severely underrepresented at TAMU. The future of the scholarships and grants to help diversify the university is uncertain given the potential shifting priorities of new university presidential administrations. The discontinuation of such programs and the failure to place Latinos (and African Americans) as high priority areas will turn back any gains that the university has made over the recent past. The university leadership needs to sustain the recent momentum in the recruitment of Latinos and to develop creative and bold strategies to make sure that Latinos—the state’s engine of population growth—gain access to TAMU. The failure to incorporate Latinos into TAMU will make the accomplishments of its overall goals more difficult. The increasing pool of Latino youth today and in the coming decades provides TAMU with a large supply of Latino students that can enrich the university and who can become valuable contributors to the university and larger society.

Notes

Rogelio Saenz, Latinos and the Changing Face of America.

Texas State Data Center, Estimates of the Population by Age, Sex, and Race/Ethnicity for July 1, 2004 for the State of Texas.

Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University Enrollment Profile, Fall 2005.

Texas A&M University, A&M University Faculty Profile Report, Fall 2004.

Texas State Data Center, Estimates of the Population by Age, Sex, and Race/Ethnicity.

Texas Education Agency, Texas Public School Statistics Pocket Edition 1991-1992 to 2004-2005.

Texas Education Agency, Texas Public School Statistics Pocket Edition.

Texas State Data Center, Estimates of the Population by Age, Sex, and Race/Ethnicity.

Bibliography

Saenz, Rogelio. Latinos and the Changing Face of America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004.

Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University Enrollment Profile, Fall 2005. College Station, TX: Office of Institutional Studies and Planning, Texas A&M University, 2005. [Internet address: http://www.tamu.edu/opir/reports/ep/epfa2005_certified.pdf]

Texas Education Agency. Texas Public School Statistics Pocket Edition 1991-1992 to 2004-2005, 2005. [Internet address: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/pocked/]

Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University Faculty Profile Report, Fall 2004. College Station, TX: Office of Institutional Studies and Planning, Texas A&M University, 2005. [Internet address: http://www.tamu.edu/opir/reports/faculty/fpfa04.pdf]

Texas State Data Center. Estimates of the Population by Age, Sex, and Race/Ethnicity for July 1, 2004 for the State of Texas. San Antonio, TX: Texas State Data Center, University of Texas at San Antonio, 2005.

 



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