EL PASO – Vanessa Mata, a senior at Bowie High School, had to make the choice to be the first to attend college in her family. For Derek Emmett, a senior at Franklin High, attending college was not even a question. It was understood that he would attend.
While both students will be going to college next year, the circumstances under which they decided to attend and which schools they chose to attend were very different.
College attendance and choice today for El Paso students is directly affected by family involvement, socioeconomic status and cultural background.
Mata said that her college of choice was The University of Texas at Austin. However, if she wanted to get a car when she graduated, she would have to go to college here in El Paso. Her father feels that she is not ready to leave El Paso and be on her own in another city and would not allow her to leave. This is the case for many students of Hispanic background.
Out of the 23 public high schools within El Paso’s three school districts, the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) has the lowest and highest income public high schools in El Paso.
According to the Texas Education Agency’s AEIS or Academic Excellence Indicator System, in the years 2007 to 2011, 94 percent of Bowie High School’s population was classified as economically disadvantaged, compared to Franklin High School with 35 percent, which is the lowest in all El Paso County.
Rose Sias, a counselor at Bowie High School, said that out of 225 graduating seniors approximately 60 per cent will attend a college or university including community college and vocational schools such as Western Technical College. Sias, who has been counseling for over 16 years, said that not many of the students at Bowie leave El Paso to obtain a higher education degree.
“First of all, because of money issues,” Sias said. “Even though a lot of our students qualify for financial aid, once you go out of town, a lot of the students and parents cannot afford the housing, and a lot of the students select to stay home because of the cost.”
All EPISD high schools have a Go Center where mentors prepare students for standardized entrance exams, and assist with college applications, financial aid applications and scholarships.
Frances Rios, the Go Center mentor at Bowie High School, said, “Because of where we are located, students tend to think that they can’t go anywhere else. They think that they can’t go out of town because of their economic status. They think that they’re not going to get any money. What we help them realize is that there’s a lot of help out there from financial aid, from grants, loans and of course, scholarships.”
Not only do students from Bowie shy away from attending or applying to college because of funding but they also chose trade schools or vocational schools over four-year colleges.
Rios who has been a mentor at Bowie for two years, said some students would rather attend a trade school because they do not want to go to school for four years.
“They want to get out as fast as they can but they don’t look at the bad things,” Rios said. “They don’t look at how expensive it’s going to be, how those degrees practically don’t really count.”
Sias acknowledged there are students at Bowie who just want to be mechanics or want to go into technical training and that a four-year college is not for everyone.
“As long as the student goes somewhere, we’re okay with it,” Sias added, a statement that Rios agreed with.
A third factor that influences Bowie’s students attending college is parent involvement. For Sias that is actually the most important factor in students attending college. “The students see that their parents didn’t attend college so they feel they won’t be able to either. What they don’t know is that they actually get more opportunities than people from other schools because of their low socioeconomic status,” she said.
In fact, the majority of the senior class at Bowie High School will be a first generation college students.
“We not only have to work with students but it is also very important to work with the parents through education and through different programs and of course, get them involved because a lot of our parents just aren’t involved,” Sias said.
“People think that they need money in order to get money which is not the case, because financial aid is awarded based on need. All the money that is out there is for them. That’s what scholarships are looking for. Those are the students that need help,” said Rios.
Judy Perez, who has been a counselor at Franklin High School for five years, attributes the more pronounced parent involvement at Franklin to the fact that many of Franklin’s students are not first generation college students.
“The parents [here] see the importance in attending college and getting an education, maybe because they have gone to school themselves,” said Perez.
While she believes that the area they are located in does influence, she added that “the opportunities are the same at both schools but I think it’s more of the motivation the student has. I don’t think that any school is better than the other. The opportunities are the same in all EPISD schools. It has to do with self-motivation. Everything is made available to all students.”
Perez believes that student motivation, their goals, and the push of the parents and teachers are what make the difference.
According to Perez, out of 695 graduating Franklin seniors, approximately 85 percent will attend college. 68 percent will attend a four-year college, while 15 to 20 percent might go to vocational school, the military or a two-year college.
Another difference between a lower and higher income school, is the types of colleges that are recruiting at the schools and the schools the students actually attend.
“Technical schools we don’t see much of here,” said Michelle Gonzalez, the Go Center mentor at Franklin. “There are a few trade schools that come in but students are not very interested in them. They usually go to universities. Students do not really want to go to EPCC here. They want to go to schools like UTEP or to UT or Texas Tech or Texas State. “
Bowie and Franklin both host college night around the same time in September and both schools make it a point to have their students fill out the Apply Texas application which allows them to apply for any and all schools within the state. The number of schools that attend College Night recruitment varies, however, with approximately 30 schools at Bowie and about 60 at Franklin.
The biggest difference between the schools can be measured through Go Center traffic, however.
Gonzalez works with mentors from all the Go Centers in the EPISD and says that among her co-workers, her Go Center is one of the most highly trafficked. She says that compared to Bowie and El Paso High, there are students coming in and out of the Franklin’s Go Center whereas at other schools it is hard for the mentors to get students in there at all.
“I think that students at Franklin are very driven students because I think their parents have more education than parents from lower socioeconomic status schools,” she said and added that “usually the parents have already gone to college and the students know that they are going to college way before I even have them apply.”
At a school like Franklin, students reach out and do their own research as far as college options while at a school like Bowie, the counselors and Go Center mentors have to work with families as well as students.
All in all, the task of getting students into college is harder at a low-income school than at a higher income school like Franklin.
A school like Bowie needs to have many programs such as career awareness, college fairs, tutors, career day, the GEAR UP program among others because they must change the mentality of students and their families.
With financial aid available in some cases up to 100 per cent it is not so much about resources any more, but about the mentality of the students and families, parent involvement and level of education, and the types of schools the students are exposed to during college recruitment events.