The New Frontier in Education
Dr. Vistasp M. Karbhari, President of The University of Texas at Arlington wants Latinos to not only get a higher education, but to succeed.
Story By: Kristian Jaime
As Hispanic students now enter college in unprecedented numbers, the changing demographics of education are diversifying exponentially.
States like Texas, where college enrollment by Latinos in Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) is at record levels, the focus is also on completion rates. The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), under the leadership of university president Dr. Vistasp M. Karbhari, is no exception.
“We are situated in the middle of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex that is growing in population and economic wealth. There is also tremendous growth in terms of Hispanic students,” said Dr. Karbhari.
The influx of traditional students from high schools across the country is now just one of the avenues where their estimated 39,000 plus students emerge. Online learners from around the world now push the total of degree-seeking individuals at UTA to a whopping 57,000. That easily makes it one of the largest universities in the Lone Star State. But it is not just about the numbers as much as it is reaching all segments of the population.
“We think of ourselves as a twenty-first century urban research university,” continued Dr. Karbhari. “We have traditional students, but more and more we have students that come to us from a two-year community college, returning adults coming back to education and veterans returning for a degree.”
The former provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs at The University of Alabama in Huntsville also served as professor and vice chairman of the Structural Engineering Department at The University of California in San Diego. Although his academic career has made him a journeyman of sorts, it all started in India.
Following his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The University of Poona, his doctoral work and eventual Ph.D. led him to matriculate at The University of Delaware.
“I asked where I could make the maximum impact with the work I’m doing,” Dr Karbhari said. “As a researcher and [educator], I could do research that could [change] the world and still be able to mentor students in a positive way than I could in the corporate world. I also love to teach and I wanted to see that light switch on in students.”
It was not long before the successor to UTA president James Spaniolo found his calling in the classroom and with the emerging luminaries-in-training through mentoring. One would assume with so many years in academia, the pressures of publishing and grant writing would subdue the satisfaction of shepherding students to success.
Yet Dr. Karbhari is all too cognizant that a degree is nothing short of years of work, often times with the minutia and worries of life still in progress.
“My favorite time of the year is graduation where I see the smiles and tears of people who have spent years working towards a degree,” Dr. Karbhari continued. “It is the culmination of hard work and many times it is someone who is the first in his or her family to get a degree. Or it could even be someone who got a doctoral degree after they didn’t think they could.”
Recruiting the next generation of Latino leaders to UTA is nothing short of comprehensive and wholly innovative. The Hispanic Advisory Council (HAC) facilitates the dialogue that leads to diversity and outreach programs. This includes representatives from the corporate and private sector as well as educators on the academic front line.
No questions on diversity
International training programs in Central and South America in the medical field are pathways to UTA curriculums and just one of the programs in place to bolster their 28 percent Latino student body.
“For us, diversity is not a question. It is a way of being. You can walk across our campus and see a number of ethnicities together and they celebrate it. That’s not because they are different, but because this place is friendly and open,” continued Dr. Karbhari.
Programs like University Crossroads include early intervention with middle and high school students to explain the necessity of a college degree. Go Centers, which now include 29 offices within the College of Education, use peer-to-peer advocacy for higher education and is paying off with a 100 percent graduation rate among student enrolled in that initiative.
Bound for Success is more than a partnership between the surrounding school districts and UTA, it is a pathway to college acceptance with the top 25 percent in a tenth grade class getting a tentative acceptance if they maintain their grades and graduate.
By partnering with the Tarrant County College District (TCCD), those planning to attend UTA can share records with both institutions from the beginning with a locked in tuition rate pending completion of a degree in four years. Furthermore, it allows for those willing to declare a perspective major at UTA to take classes that will best transfer for that degree plan.
“20 years ago, a student would come to a university for a [well-rounded] education. But in today’s economic climate, they need to know they have a job waiting for them. They need to know that time they spent would help them economically,” concluded Dr. Karbhari.