In this 150th anniversary year of the Morrill Act that established our nation’s unique land-grant system of universities, Texas A&M University is making significant progress in fulfilling the intent of that groundbreaking legislation — increased accessibility and affordability for many previously underserved populations.
Joe Pettibon, associate vice president for academic services, reports that the university is experiencing substantial increases in confirmations from low-income families.
“We can report a 40 percent increase in freshmen with annual household incomes below $20,000 and a 20.5 percent increase in those with incomes between $20,000 and $40,000 who have accepted admission for Fall 2012,” he states. “There is also a 17 percent increase in confirmed acceptances, as of May 23, from Hispanic students and an 8 percent increase in commitments from African Americans.”
In addition, Texas A&M is expecting at least 900 Regents’ Scholars this fall, up from the high of 680 in 2011. In much the same way as the Morrill Act of 1862 opened opportunities to thousands of people previously excluded from higher education, “our Regents’ Scholars program is designed to assist low-income, first-generation college students in achieving their educational goals at Texas A&M, “ says Pettibon.
In 2011, $9.4 million was awarded to Regents’ Scholars ($2.9 million to the freshmen cohort and $6.5 million in renewal awards to other undergraduates). The Regents’ Scholar Program awards recipients an initial $5,000 scholarship, which is renewable up to four years pending satisfactory academic progress and the completion of Regents’ Scholars Program requirements, Pettibon notes.
“Of course, the university provides recipients with the strongest possible academic and student development support to ensure that their scholarships are renewed each year,” adds Pettibon. “We want these students to be successful, and the results show that they are.”
In fact, data released by the Scholarships & Financial Aid Office demonstrates that Regents’ Scholars, who enter college as higher risks due to their demographic and income characteristics, have similar retention and graduation rates as their non-Regents’ Scholar peers.
Suzanne Sealey, assistant director of Scholarships & Financial Aid and Regents’ Scholars Coordinator, describes the academic success programs in place for Regents’ Scholars this way: “We have 13 Learning Communities, or Academic Success Programs, across the colleges that provide first-year students with tremendous support, academically and socially. They typically include clustered classes, out-of-classroom learning experiences, social and service activities, peer/faculty mentors and special tutorial programs. Several have now added a spring break study-abroad program as well.”
Around 75 percent of Regents’ Scholars are underserved students from low-income households. They are motivated students determined to work hard not only to be the first member of their family to attend college, but also to be the first to graduate.
“That’s why it’s so important to utilize all the resources made available by the university to support their success,” Sealey adds. “We are fortunate to have many dedicated partners across campus in this effort, especially the Student Learning Center and Student Counseling Services.”
The Regents’ Scholars effort is just one program among a number that Texas A&M facilitates to support student success. Such programs designed for each student fulfilling his or her personal commitment of achieving a degree from Texas A&M include:
- Quality academic advising offered by each department;
- General academic and student life support from each college;
- The Division of Student Affairs; and
- Central academic affairs such as the Student Learning Center, Student Writing Center, Student Counseling Services, Supplemental Instruction and Professional School Advising.
“This is a commitment to student success incumbent upon on all universities,” said Karan Watson, Provost & Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, “but in particular those of us who serve the citizens as land-grant designated institutions of higher education. These students represent the future of our state both in their intelligence and economic impact.”