The state’s public universities, especially the flagship campuses of The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University at College Station, must continue to increase the enrollment of Hispanic and other racial and ethnic minorities in order to best prepare all Texans for a bright future, says Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.
“Texas, which is the best state in the nation, has seen the Hispanic population become almost as large as the Anglo population, but we do not see Hispanics and other minority groups properly represented in the classrooms at UT-Austin and Texas A&M-College Station, which are among wealthiest public universities in the world,” said Canales. “We still have a ways to go, but we are moving in the right direction.”
As part of his efforts to open more doors to all Texans at the mammoth UT and Texas A&M campuses, Canales has become one of 53 state lawmakers who have signed a legal document, known as an amicus brief, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to support efforts that allow UT to consider race and ethnicity, among other factors, in order to promote diversity in its student population.
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the brief signed by Canales and the other state legislators on Wednesday, December 9, 2015.
In the Fall of 2014, 19.2 percent of the student enrollment at UT-Austin was Hispanic ((https://www.utexas.edu/about/facts-and-figures), while at Texas A&M during the same semester, 21.9 percent of the student enrollment was Hispanic (http://dars.tamu.edu/dars/files/d3/d3ba10d4-67c2-41eb-a627-90498097e2e7.pdf).
By comparison, the Hispanic population in 2014, as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau, is 38.6 percent of the state’s almost 27 million residents. That figure approaches the number of Anglos in Texas, who make up almost 44 percent of the state’s population. African Americans represent the third largest population group in the state, totaling 12.5 percent of all Texans.
Canales said since UT-Austin and Texas A&M-College Station were created by the Texas Legislature to serve all of Texas, it is incumbent upon the Legislature to improve what he called “dismal” student enrollment rates at those two campuses of Hispanic and other minority groups.
Although the amicus brief focuses on increasing the number of racial and ethnic minorities at UT-Austin, Canales said first and foremost he remains focused on ongoing efforts to transform The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley into the next UT-Austin and Texas A&M-College Station.
“Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. The students, faculty, and administrators at UT-Austin, Texas A&M-College Station, or anywhere else are not better or more intelligent than at UT Rio Grande Valley,” Canales emphasized. “What they do have, that we don’t, are more opportunities and more resources than the rest of the state’s public universities, and those are some of the reasons I support increasing minority student enrollments at those two rich campuses.”
Attorney Eric Lewis of Lewis Baach PLLC, which filed the amicus brief for the Democratic state lawmakers, offered the following summary of the legal document’s perspectives.
“Petitioner asks this Court to force states into a permanent choice between the two tracks – one race-neutral, the other race-conscious. In the real world, states and their leaders, including amici and other Texas Legislators, do not have the luxury of putting their higher education systems on autopilot, blind to demographic changes and pressures that exist and affect education on the ground,” Lewis stated. “Charged with educating students who will go on to be future Presidents, military leaders, or business giants, states – and especially their flagship public universities – have the obligation to address such pressures and to develop solutions that respond to circumstances in real time as they develop, ‘where the best solution is [often] far from clear.’”
CANALES SAYS HIS EMPHASIS REMAINS ON MORE ADVANCES FOR UTRGV
While that battle goes on before the U.S. Supreme Court – oral arguments are set for December 9 – Canales said he continues to work for more advances, resources, financial aid, and state-of-the-art facilities for UTRGV, especially on behalf of the Edinburg Campus, which is located in his House District 40.
“I work closely and often with the leadership of the UT System and UTRGV, and I encourage its faculty, staff and students to contact me with their vision as well,” said Canales. “We will be opening the doors to our $54 million School of Medicine in Edinburg in the Fall of 2016, and by that time, construction should be well underway for a $70 million Science Research Building, and we will be approaching construction of a $37.6 million Interdisciplinary Engineering & Academic Studies Building.”
Canales said constituents ask him what his vision is for UTRGV, and the state lawmaker said he shares the hopes and dreams of all South Texans.
“It’s no secret. We in South Texas will not rest, we will not be discouraged, we will not be stopped in our monumental effort to transform UTRGV into a world-class institution,” Canales said. “We are going to have a law school and other professional schools, just like UT and Texas A&M, we are going to expand our School of Medicine in Edinburg and throughout the Valley, and much more. Just look how far we have come in just the past few years.”
POPULATION CHANGES FURTHER DOCUMENTED BY RENOWNED DEMOGRAPHER
A former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, addressing the UTRGV community in Edinburg, earlier this Fall, affirmed what leaders such as Canales have been saying for a long time now: the Hispanic population in this country is driving the population growth of Texas and the nation, and we have to pay close attention to their education.
Dr. Steve Murdock, also a former Texas state demographer, on Monday, October 5, addressed a few hundred secondary-level math and science teachers, during the 14th annual Hispanic Education, Science and Technology week, at the Fieldhouse on the Edinburg Campus of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
“Education is the key to changing the socioeconomics of what are going to be the most important population groups in Texas,” Murdock said. “And the most important one of all, in terms of what happens to our future in the United States and in Texas, is the Hispanic population.”
Murdock swiftly clicked through slides showing data about population changes the country will experience over the next few decades, as well as the socioeconomic impact of the country’s changing demographics.
As the state and U.S. populations shift, he said, it is critical to make changes in educational attainment. That will help equalize the country’s socioeconomic situation and help prevent a decline in the overall quality of life, he said.
Current statistics show that the poverty rate among African American and Hispanic populations is two to three times higher than that of whites, and those two groups have lower educational attainment than whites.
Statistics also show that the better the level of educational attainment is, the better the average household income is.
“Education pays,” Murdock said. “If we do nothing and we don’t change these socioeconomic differences – in terms of ethnic and racial group – by educational level, we’ll actually have a decline of about $8,000 in real dollars income by 2050.”
If the country could close those gaps, he said, the median/mean household income could double.
“Our future as a state, as a country, is tied to our minority population – particularly our Hispanic populations – and how well they do is how well we all will do,” Murdock said.