University of Texas Chancellor Profiles Plan to Expand Educational and Health Opportunities in South Texas and Rio Grande Valley

Sep 16, 2013, 08:00 ET from Educational Testing Service

Program could serve as model for rest of the nation. 

PRINCETON, N.J., Sept. 16, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The growing U.S. Hispanic population faces daunting educational, health and financial challenges, but the University of Texas has an aggressive $30 million plan to confront the challenges and  increase high school graduation, college enrollment, STEM studies and on-time graduation. Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., Chancellor of the University of Texas System, outlined that plan in his 2013 Tomas Rivera Lecture, published today by Educational Testing Service (ETS).  


Cigarroa described the plan as keynote speaker at the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) annual conference earlier this year. The annual lecture is named in honor of the late Dr. Rivera, a professor, scholar, poet, author and former president of the University of California, Riverside. Rivera also served on the board of trustees of ETS. This is the fifth year that AAHHE and ETS have collaborated to publish the annual lecture.

The 40-page plan, "A Framework for Advancing Excellence throughout the University of Texas System," is a group effort involving the UT System leadership, Regents, Texas legislators, policymakers and presidents and admissions offices of the UT System's 15 institutions. 

Cigarroa discussed the major shift in the nation's demographics and the profound effect it is having on K-12 and higher education. For example, he noted that in 2010, 50 million Americans identified themselves as Hispanic—an increase of 43 percent over the previous decade.  And states along the Mexican border, like Texas, are experiencing this sea change at a more rapid pace.

Cigarroa also noted that 27 percent of the Texas population is under 18 and almost 49 percent of that population is Hispanic. Forty-seven percent of the K-12 population in Texas is Hispanic. And, the median age for Hispanics in Texas is 27, but for non-Hispanic Whites it is 41.5 percent. 

"The Texas of 2020 is going to look very different from the Texas of 2013," Cigarroa said.  "And so it is clear to me that we must nurture the talents and aspirations of young Hispanics who will soon become our leaders in governance, public service, education, healthcare and numerous other fields—not only in Texas, but across the nation."

"However, when it comes to Hispanic education—the key to a better life that everyone here believes in—these are troubling times for our young Hispanic population," Cigarroa said.  For example:

  • 34 percent of Texas Hispanics under the age of 18 live in poverty.
  • Hispanics are less likely to graduate from high school compared with non-Hispanic Whites.
  • Attrition rates are about 37 percent for Hispanic high school students in Texas.
  • Among Hispanic Texans there are more high school dropouts than there are college graduates.

"Although these statistics are discouraging, I would mislead you if I gave the impression that no progress has been made in Texas over the past decade," Cigarroa told attendees.  He cited recent examples of advances the University of Texas System has made to increase Hispanic enrollment in our institutions. 

  • Nearly 40 percent of all UT System students are Hispanic.
  • The UT System now has a majority-minority student population.
  • From 2000 to fall 2012, Hispanic enrollment at UT academic institutions increased 8 percent and 59.2 percent at UT health institutions.
  • From 2000 to 2012, there has been a 112 percent increase in degrees awarded to Hispanics at UT academic institutions and a 97 percent increase in degrees awarded to Hispanics at UT health institutions.

Cigarroa then detailed the UT Systems Framework that the Board of Regents adopted unanimously in 2011 and was endorsed by all 15 UT System presidents. The plan outlines ambitious, wide-ranging initiatives in education, research and healthcare over the next 10 years in South Texas. The plan includes:

  • A faculty recruitment program to attract exceptional STEM faculty and biomedical researchers to their universities and health institutions.
  • Increasing math and science teacher training using UT Austin's nationally acclaimed UTeach program.
  • Consolidation of UT Brownsville and UT Pan American into a single university with a new school of medicine and the promise of becoming a research-intensive university similar to UT San Antonio and other universities. 

With legislative approval, the first cohort of students will matriculate into a dedicated South Texas admissions track in 2014 to obtain their clinical education and graduate from the new University of Texas Medical School in South Texas in 2018.

Cigarroa's grandfather was a doctor. And his father still practices medicine at 88 years old.  "Not long ago I asked him if he had fulfilled everything he wanted to do as a cardiologist. He said the only thing he regretted was that he never had the opportunity to train young medical students and share his expertise with them, because there was no medical school in Laredo or the border region," Cigarroa recalled.  "He also said, 'build that medical school in the Valley, Francisco, so we don't have to keep sending our kids to Harvard and Yale.'" 

"I'm going to help build a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley out of respect for my father, uncle, grandfather and scores of physicians practicing along the border—and in South Texas and the Valley—who have waited their entire lifetimes to see young doctors study and train there, where their hometowns are, where their families are . . . and where they can remain and practice the beautiful art of medicine in their querencia, in service to the people they love," Cigarroa concluded. 

"I was privileged to hear Chancellor Cigarroa's powerful messages. Anyone concerned about the state of education in our country will want to read about the Texas plan," says Yvette Donado, Chief Administrative Officer and Senior Vice President of ETS.  "In Texas the future is already here, and the Texas University System model has elements that can be replicated through consensus, unity and perseverance."

AAHHE President Loui Olivas noted that his organization is fortunate to have had such a visionary leader as its speaker. "Dr. Cigarroa interwove his life experience and his current work to paint a picture of the possible – and the necessary," he said. "We wish him and his colleagues every success in their reform initiatives."

The Tomas Rivera Lecture may be downloaded at

About ETS

At ETS, we advance quality and equity in education for people worldwide by creating assessments based on rigorous research. ETS serves individuals, educational institutions and government agencies by providing customized solutions for teacher certification, English language learning, and elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, as well as conducting education research, analysis and policy studies.


The American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, Inc. (AAHHE) is an association of Hispanic faculty and administrators at U.S. colleges and universities. It supports the development of Hispanic college professionals and is dedicated to increasing the number of Hispanics in higher education, bringing issues pertinent to Hispanics to the attention of the larger academic community, and recognizing achievements of Hispanics in support of higher education. For more about AAHHE, visit

SOURCE Educational Testing Service