Featured, from left: Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo; Congressman Adriano Espaillat, D-New York; former Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa; and Congressman Vicente González, D-McAllen. Cuellar and Ochoa hold degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, which earlier this year earned the prestigious Seal of Excelencia, which is granted to an exclusive group of colleges and universities committed to accelerating Latino student success. This image was taken on Monday, December 2, 2019 during the third annual Christmas Bash & Toy Drive, hosted by González and his wife, Lorena Sáenz González, at the Embassy Suites in McAllen.
Photograph By ISMAEL GARCÍA
University of Texas at Austin reports that more than 25 percent of its students, for the first time, are Latino, announces attorney Omar Ochoa
Latino students at the University of Texas at Austin during the 2020 Fall semester reached, for the first time, an enrollment record of more than 25 percent, while the flagship campus of the UT System also earned the prestigious Seal of Excelencia, qualifying it for consideration as a Hispanic Serving Institution, reports attorney Omar Ochoa.
Excelencia means excellence in English.
The university reached 26.1 percent undergraduate Hispanic enrollment, passing the 25 percent enrollment threshold that qualifies a university for consideration as a Hispanic Serving Institution.
This latest figure was even more pronounced in the entering undergraduate Class of 2024, which has the highest representation of any entering UT class to date of Black (6.1%), Hispanic (28.6%) and first-generation (25.5%) students.
“I am very proud of this achievement by UT-Austin, my alma mater, on behalf of all of its students, as evidenced by the Seal of Excelencia, including the fact that for the Fall 2020 semester, Latino enrollment there reached a record 26.1 percent,” Ochoa said. “I am equally proud of South Texas College and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which last year were a winner and a finalist, respectively, for this amazing honor.”
Ochoa graduated in 2007 with a Canfield Business Honors undergraduate degree and a Master’s in Professional Accounting (MPA) from UT-Austin.
In addition to his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at UT-Austin, Ochoa later earned his JD from the UT School of Law, where he became the first Latino to serve as Editor-in-Chief of Texas Law Review.
He uses his extensive legal expertise to provide ongoing reports to the public about state laws and policies that protect the people’s right-to-know about the activities of governments and its elected and appointed leaders in Texas.
Ochoa’s father, former Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa, is a University of Texas pharmacy graduate and has been an independent pharmacist for several decades. He served nine years on the Board of Trustees for the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School Board, 13 years as the city’s mayor, and on many local and state boards.
UT Austin is one of just five institutions to receive the seal this year from Excelencia in Education, the nation’s authority in efforts related to Latino student success. It is one of 14 institutions to receive the seal since it was introduced in 2019 — and one of only two members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), which represents the nation’s premier research universities.
UT-Austin’s Seal of Excelencia designation highlights the university’s ongoing commitment to Latino students. It coincides with the recent announcement that Latino student enrollment has topped 25 percent for the first time this fall, which qualifies UT Austin for consideration as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. The university also reported record graduation rates for Latino, Black, first-generation, and Pell Grant-eligible students.
“UT Austin is deeply committed to supporting the academic success of Latino students in higher education and making this a more welcome and inclusive campus for all students,” said UT Austin President Jay Hartzell. “The Seal of Excelencia recognizes this commitment and will help us expand our strategic efforts to support Texas students. I thank Excelencia in Education and look forward to working with Excelencia to promote Latino success both on our campus and across the state and nation.”
Other institutions that received the seal this year are California State University, Sacramento; Long Beach City College; the University of Illinois at Chicago; and UT’s sister institution, The University of Texas at San Antonio.
The University of Arizona is the other AAU school that has received the seal, which it did in 2019.
“Accelerating Latino student success requires institutions to go beyond enrollment and show intentionality and impact in serving students,” said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education. “The University of Texas at Austin and the other four certified institutions set the pace for much needed institutional transformation and are confronting structural barriers and inequities of longstanding.”
The Seal of Excelencia is neither a ranking nor an award but a certification that is granted after a detailed review and verification process. It reflects Excelencia in Education’s commitment to closing the education equity gap; meeting a goal of 6.2 million Latino students attaining college degrees by 2030; and supporting America’s civic and workforce needs by effectively preparing Latinos, now the nation’s second-largest ethnic population.
To receive the seal, universities must demonstrate:
• Evidence of effectiveness and intentionality in institutional practices serving Latino students;
• Positive momentum for Latino student progress;
• Dedication to transforming the institution into an environment where Latino students thrive; and
• Strategies in leadership that clearly articulate institutional focus on advancing Latino student success
In addition to its growth in Latino enrollment, UT Austin has:
• Expanded recruitment efforts across the state and developed mentor-like relationships with admitted Latino students to deliver student-specific information and enrollment support;
• Brought together faculty and staff members, students and alumni to engage Latino students directly in their communities; and
• Developed specific programs to attract and support students in disciplines across campus, including computer science, engineering and business.
“Providing colleges and universities with the means to reflect how they intentionally serve Latino students while serving all students, and advancing this during a global pandemic and national reckoning for social justice, is how Excelencia leads the way through these challenging times,” said Sarita Brown, Excelencia’s Co-Founder and President, who is also a Texas Ex.
FOR HELPING CREATE “A COLLEGE-GOING CULTURE” IN THE RIO GRANDE VALLEY, SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE IN 2019 BESTOWED WITH “SEAL OF EXCELENCIA”
In 2019, South Texas College became the only Valley higher education system to earn the “Seal of Excelencia”, with STC leaders saying the national recognition reaffirmed more than 25 years of creating a college-going culture for Hispanic students of the Rio Grande Valley.
On Friday, June 21, 2019, South Texas College leaders announced that STC had been bestowed the inaugural “Seal of Excelencia” by Washington D.C.-based Excelencia in Education.
STC was the only higher education institution in the Valley to receive the designation and demonstrated a significant success in serving Latino students according to the organization, which announced STC as the Seal’s recipient on Thursday, June 20, 2019.
Excelencia created the seal of approval in 2018 to challenge colleges to increase Latino enrollment and improve student retention rates and faculty representation on their campuses. The Seal confirms STC has demonstrated outstanding success in helping Latino students attend college and graduate.
The designation of the Seal of Excellencia followed a critical review of integrated elements from the institution that set a strong national model for what all institutions can do to intentionally serve Latino students.
“Twenty-five years ago, South Texas College embarked on a journey to create a college-going culture for the predominately Hispanic population of the Rio Grande Valley; whereby going to and completing college was possible, affordable, and expected for all Hispanic students,” said STC President Dr. Shirley A. Reed. “This Seal of Excelencia confirms South Texas College has achieved its commitment to serve the Hispanic population of the Rio Grande Valley with unparalleled success.”
Excelencia announced its initial 20 finalists for the recognition on Thursday, May 23, 2019.
Prior to that, the organization named STC among the top institutions in the nation for outstanding, evidence-based results for improving Latino student success in higher education in 2017.
The Advisory Council reviewed STC for several elements including positive momentum in the data for Latino students, evidence of effectiveness and intentionality in institutional practices serving Latino students, alignment of data and practice in serving Latino students, and strategies in leadership that clearly articulate institutional focus on advancing Latino student success.
Members of the Seal of Excelencia’s Advisory Council were comprised of leaders with expertise in postsecondary education and large-scale change arenas. Members included J. Noah Brown, who is President and CEO of the Association of Community College Trustees; Danette Howard, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of the Lumina Foundation; William Moses, Managing Director of the Education Program for the Kresge Foundation; Lisette Nieves, Director of Educational Leadership and Clinical Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at New York University Steinhardt; and Havidán Rodríguez, President, University at Albany, SUNY.
Rodríguez was the founding Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. On Wednesday, June 21, 2017, the longtime former Edinburg resident was chosen by Gov. Mario Cuomo to be the 20th President of the University of Albany
“The Seal of Excelencia documents that South Texas College has intentionally implemented evidence-based practices to achieve and exceed the success metrics for all Hispanic students,” Reed said.
About South Texas College
Founded in 1993, South Texas College offers more than 127 degree & certificate options, including associate degrees in a variety of liberal art, social science, business, math, science, technology, advanced manufacturing, and allied health fields of study.
Additionally, South Texas College is the only community college in the State of Texas to offer five baccalaureate degrees. South Texas College has a faculty and staff of more than 2,200 to serve the college’s five campuses, two higher education centers, and one virtual campus.
Since 2000, the Dual Credit Programs has served 118,000 high school students at 70 high school partners, saving families over $280 million dollars in tuition.
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS RIO GRANDE VALLEY, A SEAL OF EXCELENCIA FINALIST, RECOGNIZED FOR HELPING LATINO STUDENT SUCCEED
On Friday, May 24, 2019, UTRGV became one of 20 universities and colleges selected by Excelencia in Education as a finalist for the Seal of Excelencia.
Excelencia in Education, the nation’s leading organization dedicated to ensuring and accelerating the success of Latino students, announced the list of institutions after a thorough review process.
TheSeal of Excelencia is a voluntary certification to recognize institutions intentionally serving Latino students for success based on leadership, evidence-based practices, and the use of data.
“We are extremely excited and honored to have been selected as one of the finalists for the Seal of Excelencia by Excelencia in Education,” said Dr. Patricia Álvarez McHatton, UTRGV Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Student Success, and P-16 Integration.
“Student success is central to our mission at UTRGV, and the three core areas determined by Excelencia to more likely lead to Latino student success – data, practice, and leadership – align with the work we, collectively, are doing at UTRGV.”
Dr. Luzelma Canales, UTRGV Senior Associate Vice President for Student Success, prepared the 15-page application submitted to Excelencia in Education.
“It is exciting to be selected as a finalist,” Canales said. “Excelencia in Education has been a longtime partner with our legacy institutions, our community colleges, and now with UTRGV in promoting what it means to serve Latino students. We are proud to work with them on highlighting how we support our Latino students to help them succeed in meeting their educational goals.”
According to the Excelencia in Education website, “The Seal signals that an institution has developed a comprehensive and systemic approach to accelerating Latino student success and seeks to raise the bar by which institutions are evaluated with regard to serving Latino students.”
Intended outcomes listed include significantly increasing the percentage of Latino students who attain degrees by 2030; growing the number of institutions that achieve the Seal by concretely showing improved ability to help Latino students succeed; raising awareness and action to accelerate Latino student success; influencing policy discussions about how to help institutions of higher education better serve Latino students; and building consumer demand within the Latino community to enroll in institutions that demonstrate success in serving Latino students.
The list of finalists in 2019 also included UT System institutions UT El Paso and UT Arlington.
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.
UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.
Joey Gómez and Letty Fernández contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).