UTPA strengthens partnership with school districts at Leadership Alliance meeting
Posted: 10/14/2011
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The University of Texas-Pan American is receiving more entering freshmen who are ready for the rigors of higher education, thanks to local school districts.

UTPA hosted its first Leadership Alliance meeting Oct. 11 to strengthen its relationship with area school districts. Pictured from left to right are Heriberto Villarreal, Santa Rosa ISD superintendent; UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen; Rolando Peña, Lasara ISD superintendent; Martha Cantu, UTPA acting vice president for Sutudent Affairs; and James Ponce McAllen ISD superintendent.

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, UTPA hosted educators from school districts across the Rio Grande Valley for its first Leadership Alliance meeting at the UTPA Annex on Closner Boulevard. During the event, Dr. Magdalena Hinojosa, senior associate vice president for Enrollment Services, gave each school district a report of how their graduates who attend UTPA have fared at the University and gave a presentation on how Valley students were performing overall at UT Pan American.

Citing data she and her office collected, Hinojosa said more than half of entering freshmen this fall had prior college hours -- whether through Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment, International Baccalaureate or Concurrent Enrollment programs. The University has also seen an increase in the average ACT and SAT composite test scores over the past five years from 18.6 to 19.8 on the ACT and from 949 to 966 on the SAT.

There are also fewer students requiring developmental education. The percentage of entering freshmen requiring remedial courses dropped from 30 percent in Fall 2007 to 16.9 percent in Fall 2011, which is the largest class UTPA has ever had, Hinojosa said.

"You all are amazing," she told educators.

Not only are students coming in more prepared, more are returning for their sophomore year. The University's freshman to sophomore retention rate increased from 67 percent in 2006 to 72 percent in 2010.

The alliance grew from an initiative the University's Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) started years ago. UTPA's GEAR UP would meet with administrators and other educators from school districts that received the program's services to inform them of updates or changes in the college application process and assess how well they were preparing their students for college.

Dr. Martha Cantu, acting vice president of Student Affairs for UTPA and the former director of UTPA GEAR UP, decided to expand the meetings to include all school districts in the area to strengthen the relationship between the University and the school systems.

"We want to keep the momentum," Cantu said.

Administrators from area school districts said they appreciated UTPA for collecting the data to let them know how to better serve their students.

Rachel Arcaute, assistant superintendent for instructional services at the McAllen Independent School District, said she would like to see if UTPA can provide districts with data that compares them to each other to show what they can do to better serve their students.

"The data is very important to us, not only as a district, but to each of the campuses because it provides us with that insight on what is it that's working that we're doing and what is it that is not working," Arcaute said. "I really liked seeing just the data itself; it speaks to what we're doing as far as programs and what we need to do to improve. We'll never be satisfied with how the kids are doing, we want the best, but this is a good starting point."