Rio Grande Valley dubbed newest ‘Talent Hub’

McALLEN — A greater push to reach out to students who dropped out of college in the last two years across the Rio Grande Valley is in development and will soon be implemented with the help of a grant by the Lumina and Kresge foundations, designating the region as their newest Talent Hub.

“We have added to the growing roster of top-flight cities committed to meeting the demands for an educated workforce,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation. “The Talent Hub designation serves both as an aspirational target for other cities and a foundation from which cities designated as Talent Hubs can build.”

The foundations awarded $275,000 to the local education non-profit RGV Focus and its higher education partners — The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, South Texas College and Texas Southmost College — to develop a plan to reach out to students ages 18 to 24 who have dropped out of college and back on a path toward a degree.

“Life gets in the way for a lot of our students,” said Luzelma Canales, executive director of RGV Focus. “Part of it is helping students connect to a lot of funding that could be available… we are hoping that we can put in place some strong advising models for these students, as we begin to learn why students stepped out and didn’t come back.”

The partnering colleges have been gathering data over the last year, Canales said, to analyze it during this summer and begin putting in place a model that caters to the specific needs of the Valley population. As of now, the hope is that a lot of these students might also have college credit accumulated since high school through dual-enrollment courses so that they can be further down the road to getting an associate degree or even higher.

The foundations will award the grant over the next 31 months, and by the time of implementation, Canales said they will also know if the budget allows room to provide micro-grants for students who decide to go back to college through the program.

A big part of the recognition is the Talent Hub designation, which Canales explained as acknowledgment of the entire Valley’s push to create partnerships aimed at creating a stronger K-12 and higher education pipeline in a region where the students are mostly of color, from low-income backgrounds and first in their families to go to college.

It is this same demographic of 18- to 24-year-olds, that the non-profit was happy to announce as the group that has closed the education attainment gap in high school graduations, some college attainment and associate’s degrees, when compared to the state attainment percentages.

In high school graduations or its equivalent, these students have a 30 percent attainment in the Valley compared to 31 percent in Texas. Some college attainment the Valley has matched the state at 34 percent, as well as in associate’s degree completion at 10 percent for both the Valley and the state of Texas — this according to data presented by RGV Focus.

There are 17 Talent Hubs throughout the country in cities such as Austin, Boston, Cincinnati and Fresno, California. These cities are used as examples to follow when cities that begin to reflect this same demographics want to learn what works best, Canales said.

In the case of the Valley, she said what catches people’s attention is the model of collective impact and how local higher education institutions are very involved in creating this impact.

“The collaboration that exists in the Valley is getting a lot of attention, and I think that part of it is that we are serving the students that a lot of communities are beginning to look like,” Canales said. “So there’s a lot of learning that folks can do with us.”