By: Dr. Terry Grier
Houston Independent School District
HOUSTON-The research is clear:
A strong educational foundation levels the playing field for all students regardless of race and socio-economic background.
That’s why it’s encouraging that more African-American students are pursuing higher education. Although this is undoubtedly good news, it also means tougher competition for students applying to top-tier universities.
Texas A&M University is one such school with a fiercely competitive admission policy. I’m proud to share some data that shows Houston Independent School District students are holding their own in this competition. In fact, almost 10 percent of the 737 African-American students accepted into Texas A&M’s freshman class as of April 1 are from HISD schools. Additionally, 28 percent of all HISD African-American students who have been granted admission to Texas A&M are from the four high schools involved in the district’s Apollo 20 turnaround program — Kashmere, Jones, Sharpstown, and Lee.
Although these students have been accepted to Texas A&M, the question remains: How many of them will attend classes there in the fall? Historically the university has struggled to attract and retain students of color. But there is a genuine effort to change that. Top Texas A&M officials have recognized the need to promote diversity among the student body, and they are taking action.
They understand that in order for the school to continue to achieve academic excellence it must embrace and promote cultural differences. The university has established several initiatives to help attract and retain traditionally underrepresented students, including the Regents Scholars and Century Scholars program. The Regents Scholars targets first-generation students and is need based, while the Century Scholars program targets specific high schools that serve a diverse population, but is awarded based on academics.
There are also Prospective Student Centers located throughout the state including in Houston. Many of these centers are in areas where the university can best serve a diverse mix of students and are a tremendous resource for students considering attending Texas A&M, even providing trips to College Station to visit the campus.
Additionally each of the colleges at Texas A&M has diversity initiatives in place to recruit and retain students of color. For example, the College of Education has a program called ExpLORE which is designed for high school students in areas served by Prospective Student Centers. During the summer between their junior and senior year, students are brought to campus for a four-day program that teaches leadership skills, hosts guest speakers, provides interactions with faculty members, and the opportunity to meet other prospective students. This program has been particularly successful in recruiting students who aspire to be teachers.
But the efforts to recruit students of color isn’t only limited to the campus of Texas A&M University. State Senator Rodney Ellis and HISD Board of Education Trustee and A&M alumna, Paula Harris also recognize the need for diversity at Texas A&M. It’s one of the many reasons for the past few years they have invited the top high school seniors and their parents to the “Top 10 Percent” workshop to help them learn more about Texas A&M as well as tips for applying for financial aid.
From this it is clear that Texas A&M is making a real effort to reach out to potential students of all races because the university’s leaders recognize strength comes from diversity. In HISD, we are committed to building on the strong progress we have made toward filling more seats each year at that great university with students from all neighborhoods in Houston.