TCU’s Recruitment Strategies Yielding More Hispanic Students – and Retaining Them

In the fall of 1999, administrators at Texas Christian University (TCU), located in Fort Worth, Texas, met to devise a strategy to attract more African-American and Latino students. At that time, only 5 percent of its students were Latino; and 4 percent, African-American. After initiating a task force, TCU stepped up its efforts to diversify its campus. Ten years later, the TCU campus has become more reflective of the Fort Worth and Dallas area and its rising Hispanic and minority population. Of the 9,140 undergraduates enrolled at TCU in fall 2010, 9 percent were Hispanic and 5 per-cent were African-American. In a decade, the number of Latino students had nearly doubled while African-Americans showed a modest gain. All of this was accomplished despite a 1996 Texas court ruling prohibiting targeted minority financial aid, later reversed for private colleges.

The task force was established because TCU needed to “respond to changing demographics,” explained Darron Turner, assistant vice chancellor of student affairs, who has been at TCU for 17 years.

To attract a multicultural student population, the university took several steps, including: 1) establishing a diversity grants program, 2) targeting high schools with large minority populations, and 3) devising a special scholarship pro-gram (more about that below) to boost its multi-cultural population. In addition, it broadened its marketing efforts, putting minority students on the cover of brochures and emphasizing on bill-boards minority students beyond high-profile TCU football players.

Turner said that TCU had to “change the perception” of the local minority community. “TCU was not seen positively in the community of color,” he admitted. TCU and its admissions staff targeted minority high schools, worked with community-based organizations and even invited elementary students on campus to take standardized K-12 tests to provide exposure to TCU. When TCU admissions staff ventured into the community, “We didn’t go in as being experts in everything. We needed to find out what was going on and see how we could help,” Turner said. To connect with the Latino population, several admissions staff took classes in Spanish so they could relate to the Hispanic community. “When admissions spoke to local community folks, they had some understanding of Spanish, though they weren’t bilingual,” Turner said. During TCU’s orientation program, a work-shop on dealing with a diverse student campus was on the agenda. Many TCU freshmen attended high schools that were homogenous, mostly White, Hispanic or African-American, so preparing them to deal with a multicultural campus was deemed necessary. Since TCU is a private college and costly to working-class students, Turner said it is “aggressive at putting together financial aid packages.” The college has been successful at fundraising, enabling it to raise scholarship money and offset the full tuition price for many students. Indeed, 70 percent of TCU students receive some type of financial help from its Office of Financial Aid. Creating a more diverse student body is part of the college’s overall mission, explained Timeka Gordon, director of the Community Scholars program at TCU. “We’re trying to develop ethical leaders in a global society,” she said. This goal can only be achieved if majority students interact and engage with students who are different from them and reflect the global population. Since the Hispanic population in Texas is growing by “leaps and bounds,” it was imperative to attract more Latino students, she said. The neighborhood surrounding the college campus is extremely multicultural, Gordon noted. “When you step on campus, it’s not as diverse. We’re in this glass bubble. We wanted the campus to reflect the community,” she said. Part of the job of the admissions department was “getting into the minority communities,” explains Gordon. “It’s not always about minority students coming to us; we have to come to them,” she offered. Many low-income students don’t own cars, and traveling to campus can be difficult.

“TCU’s Community Scholars hold an outstanding record of retention with 97 percent graduating.”

A Special Scholarship Program One of TCU’s first steps in 1999-2000 was establishing the Community Scholars Program, which provided scholarships for “promising students of color from local high schools within the Fort Worth/Dallas area,” noted Gordon. The scholarships made TCU affordable and enabled it to attract some of the best and the brightest of minority students from cities in proximity to campus. Since its inception, 200 students have participated. Scholarships have increased over the years. At first, four full scholarships were offered to inner-city Fort Worth high school graduates, but by 2010 that number had grown to 30 Community Scholars, through scholarships were partial. Funding for the scholarships started at$186,000, rose to $400,000 in 2000, and by 2003 when four full classes of Community Scholars were attending TCU, the budget reached $1.2 million. Earning a scholarship is competitive. Last year, 300 students applied for the 30 Community Scholars awards. Winners are in the top 5 percent of their high school graduating class and average 1640 on the SATs or 26 on the ACTs, criteria that must be met by all incoming TCU students. Student essays, extracurricular participation, counselor’s evaluation and special talents are also taken into consideration.

Of the 113 Community Scholars currently enrolled at TCU, 52 are Hispanic, 39 are African-American, 17 are Asian-American, two are White, and three are other. Though scholarships are worth $26,000 a year, annual fees at TCU are$41,000, including room and board (and will rise 8 percent to about $44,000 a year in 2011). Hence only about 60 percent of costs are covered by the scholarships so that students need to obtain additional financial aid, grants or take out loans to finance the rest. Before their freshman year, Community Scholars participate in a two-day orientation on campus. Included is a workshop, “Bridging the Gap,” in which faculty and staff discuss social adjustments that students must make when living and studying on a diverse campus. To retain their scholarships, students must maintain a 2.75 GPA and meet other criteria. One distinctive requirement of becoming a Community Scholar is that students must live in dormitories throughout the scholarship. “We want students to be visible and engaged in the community throughout the scholarship’s four years,” Gordon explained. Scholars must also take four noncredit leadership courses and devote 30 hours of community services a year. Gordon noted that many Community Scholars volunteer at the KinderFrogs School, an early childhood education program for children with Down syndrome, on campus and at YMCAs in Fort Worth. TCU’s Community Scholars hold an outstanding record of retention with 97 percent graduating. As associate director, Gordon meets with freshman and sophomore scholarship winners one-on-one weekly to oversee their academic progress, deal with any extracurricular issues and serve as a mentor. Gordon says scholarship winners “call me mom, big sister or auntie.” Having one person oversee the program has been an instrumental role in retaining students. Gordon creates an individual academic plan to ensure that each student is on target to pass classes and progress toward graduation. Faculty provides mid-term reports on each scholarship winner’s absences and academic progress. If any academic problems arise, Gordon involves Student Support Services to provide tutors at no cost. Scholarship winners are eager to give back to TCU. “They become ambassadors for the college,” Gordon says. Community Scholars accompany admissions staff to their high school to discuss TCU and explain how minority students fit into the campus. In 2011, the Community Scholars program will undergo change. It will offer a full scholarship, but the number of students in the program will be reduced from 30 to between 20 and 25 students. The change was made because the college recognized that “As tuition went up, scholars were paying more money, which created financial issues. We didn’t want them to spend too much time working off campus, so we decided to return to offer full scholarships but fewer of them,” Turner said.

Targeting Minorities But the Community Scholars program is only one way that TCU targets minority students. TCU’s Office of Inclusiveness and Intercultural Services hosts a two-day Minority High School conference aimed at local sophomores and juniors within a 30-mile radius to provide a taste of campus life. Minority students are assigned a mentor, sit in on classes, dine in the cafeteria and meet with faculty and administrators. “It exposes TCU to students and provides a day in the life of a college student,” Gordon said. TCU Admissions also hosts Hispanic Senior Experience and Black Senior Weekends on campus. Students stay overnight on campus, are assigned a mentor in their expected major and meet with staff. Gilbert Vásquez, a sophomore biology major interested in becoming a physician, knew about TCU from growing up in Fort Worth and attending North Side High School, where he was class valedictorian. When he was named a Community Scholar, he “saw it as an opportunity. Someone was investing in me to succeed,” he said. If it weren’t for earning the scholarship, he likely couldn’t afford TCU and might have had to attend a community college. Vásquez finds the academic programs at TCU challenging and extremely competitive in premed. But he feels enriched by his courses in biology, history and “Death and Dying,” a social work class. “That class will help prepare me for dealing with patients or a death in the family,” he said. But not everything socially at TCU has been smooth and easy. When Vásquez first met his roommate, that roommate wasn’t thrilled with having a Latino in his suite. Gradually, they talked things out, and his roommate came to accept him as a person and became a friend. Now Vásquez feels that he and the other Community Scholars have formed a “family” on campus. “We see each other every day and depend on each other,” he said. While TCU has been successful at attracting more Latino students, it hasn’t produced the same results with African-American students. Why not? Turner, who is African-American, admitted, “I’ve been struggling with that for a long time and don’t have an answer. The same programs that have addressed Latinos were put in place for African-Americans,” he said, but haven’t garnered the same results. In 10 years, TCU has doubled the number of its Latino students and expects to increase that percentage in the future. Gordon explains this increase by saying, “It’s the responsibility of the university to go into the neighborhoods and communities where talented minority students are located. We can’t expect them to come to us.” And once minority students are on campus, the university must welcome, embrace and challenge them.