A predominantly white, conservative university hustles to recruit minority students

May 15, 2009

Texas A&M reaches out to minorities in an attempt to boost its enrollment without affirmative action
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

DALLAS — Texas A&M University President Robert Gates stood before a group of high school students Monday and tried to persuade them to attend his university.

A&M is one of the best public universities in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report — but, in this case, it’s a tough sell.

His audience at Skyline High School was mostly minority students who have been accepted to A&M. Most minorities who are accepted to the university in College Station choose not to attend because they are offered more financial aid by out-of-state colleges, said A&M spokeswoman Cindy Lawson.

Gates is trying to reverse the trend and prove that affirmative action isn’t needed to boost minority enrollment.

“We’ve been tardy at being as aggressive in our outreach and in our recruitment compared to UT-Austin, but we’re going to make up for lost time,” Gates said in an interview.

The University of Texas at Austin has said it will consider race in admissions now that a June Supreme Court decision allows them to do so. But Gates has led A&M on a course different from that of many selective universities, saying the university won’t consider race. Instead, he pledged A&M to aggressive outreach and generous scholarships to boost minority enrollment.

The university has set up outreach centers in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Brownsville to reach minority groups that are underrepresented in higher education.

Monday’s visits to Skyline and Justin F. Kimball High School in Dallas are the first in a series of visits Gates will make to mostly minority high schools to promote A&M and offer financial help. He offered more than $300,000 in scholarships at the two Dallas high schools and encouraged the students to attend A&M.

“I assure you it’s a decision you will never regret,” Gates told about 100 Skyline students who have been accepted to A&M.

Gates is personally involved in the effort to recruit more minority students to his 85 percent-Anglo university. He took $8 million out of the operating budget for scholarships for first-generation college students whose family income is below $40,000. He promised black state legislators results — although he set no enrollment goals. And, he and the A&M regents occasionally call accepted minorities to encourage them to attend.

Before Gates spoke to the Skyline students they heard from Kenneth Robinson, who graduated from Skyline in 1989 and A&M in 1993.

“A lot of minorities like myself, like you, might look at A&M as this huge school that’s just there for our Anglo brothers and sisters, but it’s not. It’s really there for all of us,” Robinson said.

Gates offered some of the highest-achieving Skyline students a total of $208,000 in scholarships, but a reluctance to commit on the part of some shows what a hot commodity accomplished minority students have become.

Eighteen-year-old Angel Brown said that the scholarship Gates offered her is tempting but that she’s still considering an offer from the prestigious Rice University in Houston.

Jayme Martinez, 17, also said he appreciated the scholarship — but quickly noted that other universities are offering financial help, too. He said he hasn’t visited A&M yet and is leaning toward UT-Austin.

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said he’s glad to hear A&M is stepping up its outreach efforts.

“It is way too long been the case that universities are doing too little, too late,” Burnam said. “I like the direction President Gates is moving, but he has a long ways to go to catch up with where we should be.”

Burnam strongly opposed the university’s legacy program, which gave an advantage to applicants whose parents went to A&M. Many saw the program as disproportionately beneficial to Anglos, and criticism of the program intensified when Gates said the university would not consider race in admissions. Under pressure, Gates abolished the legacy program in January.

A&M senior Omegia Bean, 21, said she has had a few difficult moments as an African-American in a student body that’s only 3 percent black, but said her college experience has been mostly positive.

She said A&M has helpful programs for minorities and noted that the administration sided with black students when they protested an offensive cartoon in the campus paper.

Bean, an accounting major from southeast Texas, said she would encourage minorities to attend A&M.

“We need to learn to step out of our comfort zone and learn to diversify ourselves,” she said. “It’s a learning experience all the way around, and not only that, you get a quality education at the same time.”