UT officials pitch scholarship program across D-FW area; In tour of ‘underserved’ schools, they promise aid to all who get in

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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Larry Faulkner, president of the University of Texas, had a blunt message for the students of South Oak Cliff High School.

“Here’s my pitch: We want you,” he told an audience of juniors and seniors Monday. “We want to see you in Austin, and we’re going to stay committed to you and to South Oak Cliff.”

Dr. Faulkner also offered something more substantial than rhetoric: cash.

He and other UT officials took a whirlwind tour of seven urban campuses in Dallas and Fort Worth, dispensing more than $500,000 in scholarships. They also promised that any student from 20 disadvantaged area high schools who gets into UT would be guaranteed a scholarship.

“If you achieve at a high level and get accepted at UT-Austin, we will get you money,” said Augustine Garza, the university’s deputy director of admissions.

UT and other state universities have been trying to increase minority enrollment since the 1996 Hopwood court order, which effectively prohibited the consideration of race in admissions decisions, ending affirmative action at Texas universities. The enrollment levels of black and Hispanic students tumbled after
Hopwood, though they have since rebounded somewhat.

The state’s biggest response was the top 10 percent law, which said that any Texas student ranking in the top 10th of a class gains automatic admission to any state university. That put students at poor, predominantly minority schools on an equal footing with top students in wealthy suburban districts.

But UT has also focused on making four years in Austin more affordable to minorities, called “underserved populations” since the Hopwood ruling. A centerpiece of that effort is the Longhorn Opportunity Scholarship, which goes to students in the top 10 percent of 70 Texas high schools that traditionally have sent few students to UT.

For many students and parents, that influx of cash can make the difference.

“I work two jobs – a day and a night,” parent Jesus Jaime said, sitting in the front row of the North Dallas High School auditorium. “The day job is $7 an hour. The night job is $4.75 plus tips.”

Mr. Jaime’s daughter, Beti, is about to graduate at 22 with a $5,000-a-year scholarship to UT. She started high school as a 19-year-old freshman when she moved here from Mexico. “I need help for her to go to college,” he said.

In past years, the 70 schools in the Longhorn program were allotted a set number of scholarships to be given to top students each year. But UT officials told students Monday that they were broadening that effort by using other scholarship funds.

“If you are admitted to the university, we will find the money for you – there’s not going to be a limit on how much we can give,” said Joe Wilcox, a UT scholarship coordinator who told students, “I’m known as the Money Man.”

School administrators have the task of emphasizing to students the scope of what’s being offered.

“It’s a pretty sweet deal,” North Dallas High principal Lynn Dehart told juniors at an assembly Monday. “I challenge anybody to find a better opportunity out there.”

North Dallas had four scholarship recipients this year and is aiming for eight in 2003.

“If they’re in the top 10 percent, we’re talking about giving them automatic admission, automatic scholarships and lots of support when they’re down in Austin,” said Larry Burt, UT’s director of student financial services. “That’s quite a package.”

So while the official reason for the visits was to hand out scholarships, the real target was each school’s junior class. Juniors were told repeatedly to prepare to accept what UT could soon be offering them.

Judging by the reaction of some students, it might be working. “I really hadn’t thought about UT before, but now I’m interested,” South Oak Cliff junior Carla Venters said.