» Wash. Monthly: Higher Education’s New Caste System
Over the years, I’ve grown to just ignore one of my favorite magazines as they put out their college ranking issue. But as dumb luck would have it, I’m apparently now in the business of following, tracking, and reading as much news as possible about education. So the start of the semester produced its usual bounty of new content and I still have to force myself to read through some articles that have otherwise outlived any purpose post-collegiate me.
Then this caught my eye …
Diana Natalicio, the President of the University of Texas at El Paso (which the Washington Monthly ranks #7, right ahead of Harvard) said that she and her colleagues had to change the culture at UTEP. She said that in the early ‘90s, her colleagues at UTEP looked at their minority and low-income student body as “a liability,” rather than an asset. Since then, Natalicio has worked closely with the K-12 system in El Paso, all but eliminating remedial education at the college level. “Data was essential in transforming our institution,” said Natalicio who asserts that facts, rather than biases and assumptions drive their new decisions.
First cavaet is to avoid the bait of determining whether UTEP is really a better school than Harvard. Lists are for starting arguments, nothing else. And since Don Haskins is no longer among us, I think we all know which of the two institutions we would rather send a kid to learn stuff real good.
No, what got my attention out of this was the idea that UTEP has “all but eliminated” remedial education at the college level. While I think it goes without saying that UTEP has done an impressive job in dealing with a challenging situation, the irony remains that there exists some easy data to show that UTEP has not “all but eliminated” remedial coursework. Here’s a 2012 report, covering the Fall 2011 cohort of incoming students. Page two of the report will highlight that of the 30% of the first-time student population that did not meet state standards in math, reading, or writing, just more than half of them opted to take developmental coursework. Similarly, there were 343 students who did meet the math standard, yet opted for the same (this tracks with data at other campuses, as well).
That’s not quite on par with the Tier One universities in the state and it’s still a peg or two below the “Near Ones,” as well. But it’s some impressive progress at UTEP, nonetheless (feel free to compare numbers against their Fall 2003 showings).
There are still several hurdles to clear, as a March NYT/TxTrib article covers. And what makes UTEP admirable is that they have leadership that emphasizes the importance of keeping the front door of college as open as possible at a time when the fine folks at the Lege want to tie more dollars to degree completion. UTEP’s approach contrasts a bit with the method that my alma mater has chosen to move up the ladder to bigger and better things.
Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. But it still strikes me as a shame if we end up with more of a caste system college structure as a result.