National trend won’t hurt admissions, dean says

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    High school senior Rodolfo Ramirez’s graduation in June will become a milestone not only for his family but for the nation.

    Ramirez, a Fort Worth native whose parents moved to Texas from Mexico, will attend TCU in the fall, becoming a first-generation college student.

    Nationwide, the number of high school graduates will peak with the class of 2008 after climbing for more than a decade, followed by a moderate drop until 2014, according to projections by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

    The university will sustain growth in applications despite the national decline in high school graduates because its primary market, Texas, continues to expand, said Ray Brown, the dean of admissions.

    Brown said applications flow mostly from Texas and contiguous states. The university’s No. 2 market is California, he said.

    The number of high school graduates in the West and the South will continue to increase despite a national trend otherwise, according to a 2008 report by WICHE, an organization well regarded by admissions officers nationwide.

    “All of those combine for a very positive outlook for TCU and any other school in Texas that might have a similar demographic and background,” Brown said.

    In Texas, Hispanics are projected to outnumber whites as the single largest group in the public high school’s graduating class in 2010-2011, according to the report.

    “We have to be much more aggressive to promote TCU among the Hispanic population,” Brown said.

    About 9 percent of students in the 2007 freshman class are Hispanic, according to institutional research data.

    Brown said Hispanics in Texas continue to multiply, in part because of immigration. Hispanics jumped from 32 percent of the Texas population in 2000 to 35.7 percent in 2006, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

    The increase in the number of high school graduates in Texas will occur in groups that typically aren’t TCU students, Brown said. Many of these students are first-generation Americans or first-generation college students and among the financially neediest in the applicant pool, he said.

    “This changing applicant pool brings with it all sorts of interesting challenges,” he said.

    Brown said students in these categories usually undergo the college application process lacking the information and resources to make distinctions between schools, opting for community colleges or regional public universities instead of private institutions. Students who apply to a private university – like Ramirez – make what Brown referred to as a “generational leap.”

    Brown said a significant part of the university’s fundraising campaign is devoted to boosting funding for financial aid, increasing financial resources available for students.

    Other university efforts to attract underrepresented groups on campus include programs targeting low-income students, Brown said.

    Among these programs is Upward Bound, a federally-funded program that provides tutoring and resources for low-income high school students or those whose parents did not attend college.

    Margaret Faust, director of Upward Bound at TCU, said the program serves about 100 students from local high schools and graduates about 20 students annually. The university has hosted the program for 39 years, she said.

    Faust said although the program nationwide is predominantly white, the program at TCU is mostly composed of blacks and Hispanics, reflecting the demographics of the community.

    Kiesha Harvey, coordinator and counselor for the program, said about two or three students from the program enroll at TCU every year. Harvey, a former Upward Bound student, said about six seniors expressed interest in the university this year.

    Ramirez is one of them.

    The youngest of three siblings and the only one to attend college, Ramirez said he wants to pursue a career in either business or medicine. Although uncertain about his major, Ramirez said he is set on continuing with the program as a tutor in the fall.

    “That’s what the whole program is about,” he said. “You’re going to college – there are no ‘buts’ or ‘ifs’ about it.”