EDINBURG, RGV – UT-Rio Grande Valley’s executive vice president for academic affairs, student success, and P-16 integration, testified before Congress on Thursday.

For Dr. Patricia Alvarez McHatton it was a first. In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM from Washington, D.C., McHatton said she enjoyed the responsibility of representing the university on Capital Hill and would happily do so again.

McHatton testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor’s subcommittee on higher education and workforce investment. The topic under discussion was ‘Engines of Economic Mobility – The Critical Role of Community Colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions in Preparing Students for Success.’

“I had the great opportunity as a representative of a Hispanic-serving institution to talk about the wonderful things that are happening at UTRGV, focused on student success and how we partner with our communities and business leaders to ensure that our graduates are prepared for the workforce and the wonderful life they will lead,” McHatton told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.

Dr. Patricia Alvarez McHatton

Asked how the committee members received her remarks, McHatton said: “I am hopeful we were received well. I was able to share the ways in which we support our students, specifically with our capping of tuition at 12 credit hours, which allows them to be able to graduate, if they do it in four years, with one free semester, so they leave not just graduating in four years but with less debt.”

Another topic McHatton brought up was UTRGV’s new PROMISE Programs. These are discipline-specific and represent a promise to the students that if they progress as stipulated in their PROMISE Program, they will graduate in four years.

In her testimony, McHatton ran through some key statistics. 

“We graduate over 5,000 students each year – 87 percent of our students are Hispanic, 59 percent are first-generation, 76 percent of all undergraduate students receive some sort of financial aid,” she told the legislators assembled. “Most importantly, our students are committed to their education and to giving back to their communities.”

McHatton testified that getting students graduated isn’t sufficient.

“We need to make sure that once they graduate, they enter viable careers that address community needs. We must work with employers, educators, workforce systems and communities in tandem, if our current and future workforce needs are to be met,” she said.

UTRGV is the largest Hispanic serving education serving institution (HSI) in Texas and the second-largest in the United States. An HSI is defined on the U.S. Department of Education website as an institution of higher education that “has an enrollment of undergraduate, full-time-equivalent students that is at least 25 percent Hispanic students at the end of the award year immediately preceding the date of application.”

Asked if there was anything unique about UTRGV that she hoped the committee members would pick up on, McHatton said:

“For me, what is really central to our mission is our dedication to the community. The fact that we are bilingual, bicultural and bi-literate. The fact that we recognize the assets and the strengths of our community and use those to support our students. 

“There are always a lot of conversations around demographics and high poverty and the percentage of students that are on Pell Grants and so forth. I always like to say that is only one part of the story. What is really important is that we have students that persevere, that are committed, who understand responsibility, who are dedicated to giving back to their community and family. 

“And that we have families that understand the power of education and do everything it takes in order to get their kids into and through college and beyond. For me the message we can give is how you work with the community from an asset-based perspective and that we all understand that we all have a responsibility in the work we that we do. 

“That student success is not relegated to advising for enrollment, it is about faculty, it is about staff, it is about every single one of us, it is about leadership. We are all in this together and we are only successful if we all work together.”

McHatton had five minutes to make her case to the House committee. She said this was insufficient time to highlight the work the being done by the various colleges at UTRGV to collaborate with community partners and help students. However, McHatton said she was able to leave written testimony for the committee members to read at their leisure.

Seal of Excelencia

Whilst on Capitol Hill, McHatton learned that UTRGV has been name a finalist for the first ever Seal of Excelencia awards. 

The Seal 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.

The Excelencia Seal team reviewed applications submitted for the following elements:

Alignment of data and practice in serving Latino students; strategies and practices that have been institutionalized in serving Latino students; evidence of effectiveness and intentionality in institutional practices in serving Latino students.         

There are 20 finalists. They are: Alamo Colleges in San Antonio, Arizona State University, Austin Community College, California State University – Channel Islands, California State University – San Bernardino, California State University – Monterey Bay, El Paso Community College, Eastern Connecticut State University, Grande Valley State University, Florida International University, South Texas College, San Diego University, University of Arizona, St. Peter’s University in New Jersey. University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Central Florida, University of Texas – Arlington, University of South Florida, UT-El Paso and UTRGV.

The winners will be announced on June 20.

“We are very excited about this. Being one of 20 institutions has made it to the final says an awful lot about what we do to help our students,” McHatton said. “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.”

Deborah A. Santiago is co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education. She told UTRGV President Guy Bailey: “In reviewing your application, your institution’s commitment to serving Latino students is clear. Identifying finalists among strong applications required an even more critical review of integrated elements throughout the institution that set a strong national model for what all institutions can do to intentionally serve Latino students while serving all.”

Santiago said 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.

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.”

Canales said 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.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Dr. Patricia Alvarez McHatton, UTRGV executive vice president for Academic Affairs, Student Success, and P-16 Integration, testifying in Washington, D.C., before the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment (Courtesy Photo)