In the Arlington school district, 20 percent of graduating seniors and as many as 27 percent of Hispanic graduates in the Arlington school district don’t apply to college. That startling number is why the district has been partnering with local universities to ensure more students move beyond high school. The latest effort is with the University of North Texas.
As students streamed into the auditorium at Arlington High School, members of the UNT band blared their horns and played the drums, as Scrappy the Eagle mascot bounced around. It was a pep rally of sorts aimed at enticing these student to attend the Denton university when they graduate.
Arlington Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos talked to them about why they need to take this issue seriously.
“We don’t leave it to chance in Arlington Independent School District that you may or may not apply for college or you may wait too long or it may take too long to get accepted and things like that,” Cavazos said.
He told them about the new Eagle Advantage program, which guarantees admission to UNT to Arlington ISD juniors who are in the top 20 percent of their class. Seniors who also rank in the top 20 percent will be grandfathered into the program, but just for this fall.
“You do your work. You do your part. Your commitment, Cavazos said. “And you get admitted to UNT.”
The UNT early admission program is similar to the one that Arlington ISD launched in 2013 with the University of Texas at Arlington.
Cavazos said it’s one thing to dream about going to college and getting a degree, but it’s another thing to have a spot in a school. And that’s key for a district like Arlington where a significant number of top-performing students don’t even apply to college.
“Sometimes it has to do with that they’re the first ones in their family that are thinking of going to college or obtaining a university degree and so those pathways have not yet been set,” Cavazos said.
UNT president Neal Smatresk says he wants to relieve students’ anxiety. If students know there’s a school that will accept them, then they can focus on other things like applying for financial aid and looking at career choices.
“You know, you can’t choose a job you’ve never heard of, and so one of the things that we can do is expose them to the broad array of majors that we have, so they can make better choices and graduate in a more timely fashion,” Smatresk said.
There’s also a financial incentive for students and schools. Each Arlington high school principal will be able to give one student a $1,000 scholarship that renews.
Tiara Lewis, an 11th grader at Seguin High School, says early admission at UNT gives her a sense of security knowing she has a place to go. She has big plans for after college, too.
“I see myself basically owning my own company, manufacturing businesses,” Lewis said. “I just see myself as a global empire – the farther I can go, the farther I can go. You know?”
Arlington district officials say more than 1,400 students are eligible to enroll based on last semester’s grades. They hope that many, or close to it, take advantage of it.