$3 million grant to promote college access in Fort Worth, San Antonio

FORT WORTH -- The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board announced Monday that it is launching a pilot program in Fort Worth and San Antonio to amplify some words of parental wisdom: Go to college.

Board officials hope that the initiative can boost college enrollment and that it can then be expanded statewide. Generation TX is a community-based movement that seeks to provide Texas students, families and their communities with the encouragement, resources and support they need to find and stay on the path to college and career education.

The initial two years of Generation TX is funded by a $3 million federal College Access Challenge Grant. The focus will initially be on increasing college applications and helping students understand the process of applying for financial aid.

"We want people to understand that just getting that high school diploma, or even that bachelor's degree, doesn't guarantee you very much," said Clint Bond, a Fort Worth school district spokesman.

Texas lags in high school graduates who obtain a postsecondary school education, or people who are 25 or older who have a college education or a degree after high school, said Dr. Raymund Paredes, Texas commissioner of higher education.

Historically, the Texas economy has been driven by a lot of jobs that did not require a college education, such as oil-field and agricultural work, Paredes said. But jobs requiring just a high school diploma are being exported to other countries in increasing numbers.

Given that much of Texas' population growth will be among low-income families, the state needs to make sure that those families know that college can be within financial reach. Often, he said, poor families grossly overestimate the resources their children need.

"We want to make certain that people in Texas know about the higher education opportunities available to them, and we want to make sure that we as a state do not fail to meet our education goals because of a lack of public information," Paredes said.

"To me, the most heartbreaking circumstance is that families who say they just did not know how to get into college or how to pay for it."

Michael Moore, University of Texas-Arlington senior vice provost, said the earlier that students hear this message, the better. Getting more students a college education is in everyone's best self-interest, he said.

Communities with highly educated populations tend to have less violent crime and longer life expectancies, and they are healthier, he said.

"You've got to ask yourself, 'What are the future employment opportunities for a 14-year-old who does not get a college degree?'" Moore said.

MITCH MITCHELL, 817-390-7752