Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanac took to the road earlier this year to meet with potential Red Raiders. He says he believes students from rural communities possess distinctive characteristics and which can be assets that benefit the university’s overall feel.
That was part of the message he delivered on a recent tour of about a dozen rural high schools. Twelve percent of this year’s freshman class come from within 100 miles of Lubbock. Last year, it was 15 percent. Overall, 25 percent come from within 100 miles.
“I convey to them that there are certain characteristics, certain parts of your upbringing that are natural to you, that are not that common throughout the population,” he says. “You have an effect by virtue of the way you behave, you have a positive effect on others. And I believe it. I believe that those students are an important part of the culture of Tech, even thought they constitute less that 25 percent of our overall enrollment.”
Data from an arm of the U.S. Department of Education shows that only 29 percent of rural residents 18 to 24 years old are enrolled in higher education. That compares to nearly 48 percent from cities.
Schovanac, who went to the many of the schools with South Plains College President Robin Satterwhite says the day trips were well received.
“The administrators are so grateful for us being there. Most of them would say, ‘I’ve been in education for 10, or 20 or 30 years. No president has ever come to our school.’ And it’s not that it’s me, it’s that Texas Tech’s president went there to say, we want you here.”
Schovanac, whose trip took him to towns like Floydada, Crosbyton, Post and Tahoka, isn’t alone in reaching out to rural students. According to a January 2017 New York Times story, geography is now seen as another component of diversity in higher education, like race or ethnicity.
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And, the story goes on, rural students can be viewed as quote: “a new underrepresented minority.” Many rural students would be the first in their families to attend college.
Schovanac asked the high school students about that. He says hands go up from about 70 percent of the groups, which matches Texas’ figures. But Schovanac believes the biggest factor is income levels in rural communities.
“I have no data, specifically to back this up, but based on my experience at those schools this year,” he says, “I think income, family financial considerations, are a big factor. So we try to let them know that we have special programs in place for those students. We’ve increased our scholarship support for need-based.”
But another, harder to address factor affects some rural students’ view of Texas Tech, Schovanac says. They feel intimidated.
“They see it as a different world. So, in one sense we want to ensure them that we’re a very inviting place. But for those who are already thinking about college, we also want to convey to them, it is a different world from what they know,” he say. “They may think that this is going to be the same old, same old. I know Lubbock. I’ve been around here. I have to go some place else. And we say once you get on this campus it’s a whole new world.”
Schovanac and others Tech representatives regularly travel to large cities regularly, like Dallas and Houston, to sell students on the university. Those visits are called Red Raider Road Shows and plans are in the works to do one locally for rural students can attend.
“The message is, ‘ we want you, you actually make an important contribution to the culture of Texas Tech.”