RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – UTRGV’s commitment to ensuring the enrollment and success of its more than 27,000 undergraduate students through innovative educational programs, grant initiatives and enrollment strategies has propelled the university to earn the coveted Seal of Excelencia certification.
For its efforts in accelerating Latino student success in higher education, UTRGV on Friday was named among 10 universities from across the United States to receive the 2021 distinction.
“Earning the Seal of Excelencia is a monumental distinction for UTRGV as we take great pride in accelerating Latino student success in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond,” UTRGV President Guy Bailey said. “This is a great testament to the hard work and dedication of our students, faculty and staff.
“We are proud to have achieved this certification that recognizes our programs and efforts dedicated to increasing the number of Latino students who, ultimately, earn a degree and go on to help their communities thrive.”
The 10 institutions earned Seal certification by demonstrating specific inclusive strategies, implementing programs with evidence of effectiveness, and registering results that showed they are intentionally serving Latino students amongst all their students.
ENHANCING LATINO STUDENT SUCCESS
Programs like Tuition Advantage, dual credit and the College of Sciences STEM initiatives contributed to UTRGV earning the certification. Those programs and other UTRGV incentives have made the dream of a higher education possible for students, of whom 93 percent of the undergraduate population identify as Hispanic/Latino.
Through its various programs – including the most expansive free-tuition program among public institutions in Texas, Tuition Advantage – UTRGV strives to better serve and support Hispanic/Latino students and all students.
This month, the university announced an increase in the income threshold from $95,000 to $100,000 for the highly competitive Tuition Advantage program, which covers the cost of tuition and mandatory fees for eligible students with a family income of $100,000 or less and with unmet financial need. The new income threshold is the largest of any free-tuition program in the state and is believed to be the largest in the nation.
The success of the program has translated into a retention rate of 80 percent in students staying and completing their education at UTRGV.
A total of 3,663 students, of whom 95 percent were Hispanic/Latino, were awarded Tuition Advantage for Fiscal Year 2021.
Jose Pablo Rojas, president of the UTRGV Student Government Association, said it is an exciting time to be a UTRGV student.
“I am proud to be part of a university that has changed so many lives, including mine, by providing unparalleled opportunities and programs to succeed for Latinos in the Valley and around the state and country,” he said. “Congratulations to UTRGV for earning this coveted Seal of Excelencia certification. It is well deserved.”
UTRGV understands the importance of supporting first-generation Hispanic/Latino students, and programs like the Dual Credit program help shine a light on the university’s commitment to creating a pipeline to higher education for qualified students in the Valley who want to earn college credit while in high school.
The Dual Credit program was established to remove financial barriers and align high school curriculum and the Texas Common Core to ensure transferability to four-year degree programs. All pre-college, for-credit academic courses and programs are offered at no cost to the school districts, parents, or students.
In 2019, the Valley outperformed the state of Texas in number of high school graduates with dual credit participation and accumulation of advanced placement / international baccalaureate credits – 51 percent in the Valley versus 32 percent in Texas.
In Fall 2019 and Spring 2020, 1,484 students participated in dual credit programs at UTRGV, with 92 percent identifying as Hispanic/Latino.
Helping boost the representation of Latinos and Latinas in STEM fields is the College of Sciences, which has implemented several initiatives – like the High Scholars program, which offers summer research opportunities for high school students in the Valley, and the university’s Center of Excellence in STEM Education, which provides a clearinghouse of summer research, fellowship and conference opportunities for students.
Those initiatives and more led to an increase in the percentage of Hispanic/Latino students in the College of Sciences, from 89 percent to 92.2 percent. Majors like marine biology increased from 86 percent to 96 percent in enrollment. Physics (72.5 percent to 89.5 percent) and Environmental Science (83.89 percent to 90.4 percent) also saw growth. Those majors once were some of the most underrepresented programs at the university.
“The Seal of Excelencia is a tribute to the university’s commitment to empowering Latino students through our innovative programs and extraordinary faculty, who ensure our students are on the path to success,” said Dr. Janna Arney, UTRGV executive vice president and provost. “This one-of-a-kind certification is confirmation that UTRGV is advancing the success of Latino students by creating change and innovation inside and outside the classroom.”
MEETING CHALLENGES IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC
As most universities across the country saw a drop in student enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic, UTRGV saw an 11.5 percent increase in Fall 2020, with an enrollment of 32,618. For the first time in the school’s history, UTRGV enrolled more than 5,000 incoming freshmen.
In addition, UTRGV’s 2020 first-year retention rate was 81 percent, an increase of 4.2 percent, and its four-year graduation rate was 29 percent, an increase of 4.3 percent. Both were record highs for the university.
To support students during this crucial time, UTRGV implemented several strategies to encourage students to continue their education and not let the pandemic derail their plans.
While paying for college is a perennial obstacle for most students, the COVID-19 pandemic created new financial hurdles for students.
In addition, UTRGV established the Summer and Fall Liftoff programs in 2021, which covered $500 in the summer and $1,000 in the fall to help cover tuition and mandatory fees. The initiatives were made possible thanks to the more than $17 million the university received in CARES Act funding.
Overall, UTRGV has provided more than $80 million of HEERF funds directly to students during the pandemic, including several million dollars that was used to wipe away student debt.
Also during the pandemic, courses were altered to provide students an uninterrupted path toward their degrees. UTRGV offered a variety of options and modalities for courses, from online asynchronous to hybrid/reduced seating classes.
To learn more about the Seal of Excelencia, visit https://www.edexcelencia.org/.
ABOUT EXCELENCIA IN EDUCATION
Excelencia in Education accelerates Latino student success in higher education by promoting Latino student achievement, conducting analysis to inform educational policies, and advancing institutional practices while collaborating with those committed and ready to meet the mission. Launched in 2004 in the nation’s capital, Excelencia has established a network of results-oriented educators and policymakers to address the U.S. economy’s needs for a highly educated workforce and engaged civic leaders. For more information, visit: https://www.edexcelencia.org/
CARES ACT FUNDS
UTRGV continues to implement programs directly benefitting students who have been impacted by disruption to campus operations due to the coronavirus. These programs are funded with both CARES Act funds from the U.S. Department of Education and UTRGV institutional funds, and of the programs’ total costs, no less than $17,169,129 of CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) will be expended on eligible students through direct grants. The opinion and content of this communication is that of UTRGV and does not necessarily represent the policy of the U. S. Department of Education or the Federal Government.