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Ep 5: What does it mean to build a college-going culture?

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Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio
A student walks across the Texas A&M University-San Antonio campus in February 2020.

On San Antonio’s South Side, a handful of new buildings modeled after the city’s historic Spanish missions dot a large plot of land. Tan stone, arches and domes. It’s the home of San Antonio’s newest university: Texas A&M-San Antonio.

There's a strong argument that the existence of this campus could be a big part of the solution to San Antonio’s Latino college gap. Twelve years ago, it didn't exist. And prior to that time, the only public four-year institution in town was on San Antonio's whiter — and wealthier— North Side.

A&M-San Antonio is in the heart of the Hispanic community.

Mari Fuentes-Martin, the university’s vice president, said A&M-San Antonio needs a few more years to reach its full potential. But once it’s fully up and running, she believes San Antonio’s Latino college gap will shrink.

“For us, I think the issue is the numbers, the overall numbers,” Fuentes-Martin said. “We graduate about 1,500 students a year….But do we have the capacity for 2,500; 4,000; 5,000 students? That's where we want to get, because that's when the real impact is.”

From Texas Public Radio, this is the Enduring Gap, a limited series exploring some of the reasons more Latinos don’t have college degrees in San Antonio.

In episode 5, we’re taking a look at where we go from here.

San Antonio’s college leaders say a big part of the problem is San Antonio’s low college-going rate.

Texas A&M-San Antonio was founded to increase access to higher education on the South Side. Fuentes-Martin said part of fulfilling that mission is helping to build what she calls a college-going culture in San Antonio. But what does it mean to build a college-going culture? How do we get there? And is it the missing piece that could help us close San Antonio’s Latino college gap?

When TPR surveyed local college students in 2021, the overwhelming majority said their parents encouraged them to go to college. And Latino parents were just as likely to encourage their children to go to college as non-Latino parents, even though they were less likely to have gone to college themselves, and more likely to be low-income.

TPR surveyed students who went to college, so we can’t make any guesses about the general attitude towards higher education in the Latino community. But it begs the question: What if they also believe college is important? What if the reason more Latinos don’t enroll in college is more about systemic barriers than attitudes or beliefs?

For more information on the college access survey the podcast series is based on, read our stories here.

The Enduring Gap podcast is made possible by an Education Writers Association fellowship. EWA fellowships support ambitious education journalism projects.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.