The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a five-year, $1.69 million Title III Strengthening Institutions Program Development Grant to The University of Texas-Pan American.
Title III is a higher education development program created to help institutions develop new projects to address the needs of students and the institution. Often they are programs that cannot be funded by any other means, and they are usually innovative in nature.
"The university is very fortunate to have been awarded a Title III grant. These awards are extremely competitive," said Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez, president of UT Pan American.
"The Title III grant will fund two activities - increasing our retention rates and improving our students' performance on the ExCET (teacher certification) examination," he said. "When we submitted the proposal, we looked at those two areas because they were high priorities for the university."
The grant project, which will begin this fall, is titled "Empowering Students for Success." The coordinator for the overall project will be Dr. Olga Ramirez, associate professor of mathematics.
The first activity focuses on the improvement of student retention and graduation rates. It also will provide opportunities for faculty and professional staff at the university to enhance teaching effectiveness by using technology across the curriculum, thereby meeting the technological needs of both students and their future employers.
The second activity is aimed at improving teacher preparation programs to ensure that UT Pan American continues to graduate sufficient teachers, especially Hispanic teachers, to maintain an ethnically diverse teaching force.
The co-directors of the retention/graduation project are Dr. Lee Hamilton, chair of the Department of English, and Dr. Kichoon Yang, chair of the Department of Mathematics.
"The statistics are clear nationwide that Hispanics have the highest drop-out rate of any group in the country. We are especially concerned about that at an institution like ours where the student body is 88 percent Hispanic," Hamilton said.
The goals of this part of the project are to increase:
o the average passing grades in remedial and general education mathematics, reading and writing courses;
o the number of faculty members who participate in professional development activities about teaching effectiveness techniques, especially techniques that make use of technology;
o the number of courses that integrate technology; and
o the number of students who can use the campus computer network to communicate with faculty and staff and to access local, regional, national and international networks.
"Because so many students come here lacking sufficient academic skills to succeed at the university, developmental or remedial education becomes crucial to their long-term success and their staying in secondary education," Hamilton said.
"We are in a part of the state serving a population that has been historically underserved in higher education, so this is part and parcel of the university's mission to bring higher education to the people of the Rio Grande Valley," he said. "To do that, we need to maximize their opportunities for success. That's part of what is behind this grant."
Co-directors for the teacher education activity are Dr. John E. Bernard, associate professor of mathematics, and Martha Harrison, ExCET improvement coordinator at UT Pan American.
The university's goals for the second activity are to increase:
o the initial pass rate average on the ExCET teacher certification exam for each of 10 certification areas - biology, history, English, English as a second language, mathematics, early childhood education, physical education, special education, and elementary and secondary professional development;
o the number of faculty members who take advantage of professional development opportunities to enhance teacher preparation programs;
o the number of ExCET Preparation Workshops offered for education students; and
o the efficiency of the university's ExCET Office by improving its coordination, management and resource capability to monitor and share findings, leading to the correction of deficiencies in teacher preparation programs or courses.
"As we develop strategies now, particularly to address the problem of retention and graduation rates but also with ExCET, the funding in the Title III grant is going to help us tremendously with these efforts," Nevárez said. "As a result, these activities over the life of the grant will be institutionalized as ongoing activities at the university, to address those two high-priority items."
The Title III grant provides funding for the first year, with renewal of the grant for the subsequent four years dependent upon annual Congressional appropriations and the university's demonstration of project progress through submission of annual reports to the U.S. Department of Education.
In 1990, the university was awarded a three-year Title III Strengthening Institutions Program grant that focused on faculty development, curriculum development and graduate student advisement.