El Paso, Texas

Expanding in El Paso and Pittsburgh

Since we launched Open Campus a little more than a year ago we’ve talked a lot about how higher education is, for so many Americans, a local and regional issue — not a national one. There’s no more extreme example of that than El Paso, Texas.

A remarkable 85 percent of El Paso’s high school graduates who go to college stay in the city — almost all of them going to the two public institutions in town: the University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College.

The closest other in-state option is Sul Ross State University, more than 200 miles away in Alpine, Texas. Or you could drive four-plus hours east to Odessa, where there’s another UT campus. That’s 280 miles away — the distance between New York and Portland, Maine.

In so many ways, then, the education system in El Paso is a closed loop. It’s also one that hasn’t had a regular higher-ed reporter since the early 1990s. That’s why we’re excited to expand our local network of reporters through a partnership with El Paso Matters.

Launched last year by Robert Moore, a longtime journalist in the city, El Paso Matters focuses on in-depth and investigative journalism for the region. Moore was the editor of the Gannett-owned El Paso Times before stepping aside in 2017 to preserve reporting jobs rather than make more cuts.

With help from Open Campus, El Paso Matters will add a new reporter this fall dedicated to covering higher ed.

Some of the issues that we’ll be tackling there:

  • The state’s 60×30 goal — an effort to get 60 percent of Texans aged 25–34 to have a certificate or degree by 2030. Right now, in the El Paso region, the number is 39 percent.
  • What role does UTEP, a major research university, play in the local economy? As Moore told us, often one of the first things a new graduate from UTEP in science or engineering does is move for a better job in Dallas or Houston.
  • Higher ed attainment for Hispanic students. El Paso has made strides in recent years of getting more Hispanic students to enroll in college — at higher rates than they do across the state. But completions still lag, notably for male students. Just 16 percent of the eighth-grade Hispanic boys in the region had earned a higher ed certificate or degree by 2019. (The silver lining: That number is up sharply from just 7 percent a decade earlier.)

Interested in the job? Get in touch or sign up for our job updates.

Have ideas for what we should be covering in El Paso? Or people we should meet? Please let us know.

— Scott Smallwood

A New Partnership in Pittsburgh

We’re also excited to announce that we’re partnering with PublicSource, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to public-service reporting in Pittsburgh.

The region’s economy is often talked about as a phoenix rising from the collapse of steel and now dominated by “eds and meds.” The Pittsburgh region is home to dozens of colleges, and higher ed is central to Southwestern Pennsylvania’s economic opportunity and social mobility.

We’ll be working with PublicSource to hire a full-time higher ed reporter for a one-year position that we hope to be able to extend. Check out the job ad here.

Photo by Ben Dutton on Unsplash

As we’ve been getting ready for our fall series of community forums with The Lens in New Orleans, we’ve talked with counselors, college officials, and community groups about the higher ed challenges facing the city. Something that really comes through: As in El Paso, one of the biggest challenges here isn’t so much getting students to college but helping them stay.

College-going rates have been improving in the city, but wide disparities remain in who stays and who gets a degree: Among New Orleans public-school students who went to college after graduating in 2016, for example, 91 percent of white students returned for the fall of their second year while 68 percent of Black students did.

Part of the problem is that nobody really talks with students about the why of college, officials at a local group that works to connect youth with career pathways told me. Or whether attending a four-year college even aligns with their interests or professional goals.

Another issue, they said: too many employers still habitually use a four-year degree as a proxy for all kinds of things, including soft skills. That kind of traditional thinking about job credentials pushes some students toward bachelor’s programs when other education and training options might be better.

One college counselor talked about all the things that high-school students aren’t told or don’t prepare for: how you have to advocate for yourself more than you did in high school, for example, or that your TOPS scholarship from the state doesn’t just get automatically renewed. To try to help, public charter schools in the city employ a new type of guide — persistence counselors — who work with students after they graduate high school and into college.

What Louisiana Thinks of Its Colleges

In advance of the forums we also wanted to try to get some sense of how Louisiana residents view their colleges. Which ones are worth the cost? Which do they feel are for people like them? Which are good for their community?

We modeled a few questions on New America’s Varying Degrees study about public perceptions of higher ed — but we used SurveyMonkey Audience to ask them of just people in Louisiana. Some highlights:

  • First, some good news for higher ed. Most Louisiana residents believe that all types of colleges are good for their community. Three-quarters of respondents said that was true for community colleges like Delgado and for public universities like the University of New Orleans. More than 60 percent also said the same of private universities like Tulane or Xavier.
  • Respondents were most likely to say that public universities like UNO are for people like them, with 64 percent saying they are. About half said community colleges like Delgado are for people like them, and 41 percent said the same of private universities like Tulane or Xavier.
  • Not surprisingly, private universities are least likely to be seen as being worth the cost, with less than one in three respondents agreeing they are. Close to half said public universities are worth the cost, and 57 percent said community colleges are.

— Sara Hebel

Spotlight

How the Journalism Industry’s Elitism Locks Out Folks from Underrepresented Backgrounds

When a journalism executive suggested I could have gotten an internship if I wasn’t attending a community college, he perpetuated systemic barriers. (Poynter)

A U. of Mississippi Professor Skipped Work To Protest Racial Inequality. State Auditor Says He Should Be Fired.

The professor, who has regularly drawn public scorn of top Republican officials, participated in a two-day national work stoppage. (Mississippi Today)

How the U.S. News Rankings Helped Reshape One State’s Public Colleges

The partial alignment of Florida’s purse strings with U.S. News metrics has come at a cost. Critics say these developments have driven an even bigger wedge between the state’s four-year colleges, making richer institutions richer, and depriving less-resourced institutions of much-needed funds. (Chronicle of Higher Ed)

Low-Income Students Are Dropping Out of College in Alarming Numbers

Many say they don’t have good enough Wifi at home to take online courses. (Washington Post)

Keep in Touch

Interested in covering higher education? Sign up for our job alerts, add yourself to our talent pool, and see our latest openings with partner newsrooms on our Jobs page.

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