Part 4: How to Help Hispanic Students Succeed in College—Lowering Administrative Costs
It’s in the news almost every day: The rising cost of college has far outpaced inflation over the past 30 years. To help students stay in school—and successfully navigate the student financial services journey—campus leaders at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) understand it’s part of their social mission to follow the ‘ABC’s of student finance’ by improving access to higher education, reducing student borrowing, and driving down administrative costs.
The university faces several unique challenges because of its predominantly Hispanic population. Many students and families are culturally wary of borrowing money for school, consequently more than 70% work full- or part-time to pay for their education. For Dr. Minita Ramirez, VP of Student Success at TAMIU, that means that keeping costs down—and consistent—is essential.
The Cost of Disconnected Student Services—and Oppressive Heat
When she started working at the university 17 years ago, Ramirez was charged with recruitment. At that time, the Financial Aid office was in a different building than the Registrar’s office, which was in a different building than the Admissions office—which was in a separate building from the academic colleges. Students had to go from building to building, being asked for paperwork that might be housed elsewhere or that wouldn’t be available for a day or two.
In Laredo, Texas, in 105-degree heat, many students just gave up. Ramirez says it was “a disaster.”
Over time, she was tasked to head Admissions, then Financial Aid, then the Registrar’s office. And although the offices tried working together, they were still located in different buildings—isolated and inefficient for staff and students.
Collaboration to Support Student Success
By 2006, Ramirez recalls, it was time to think about establishing a “one-stop shop.” She envisioned a centralized environment, a new building, where staff and administrators from different offices worked closely together.
“I wanted everyone to be cross-trained, too, so that if Financial Aid had lines out the door, we could bring in folks from Admissions to help,” Ramirez says. “We started to create a much more collaborative environment.”
She continues: “One of the greatest things about the way we developed this full-service model is the communication lines that we were able to open and solidify with all the other departments on campus.”
As the university services transitioned to a one-stop shop, the unifying slogan became, ‘Committed to Student Success.’
The Most Important Building on Campus
In 2012, the Judith Zaffirini Center for Student Success opened for business. Named after the state senator who championed funding for the project in the Texas legislature, the Zaffirini Center is where current and prospective students can apply for admission, take placement exams, register for classes, apply for financial aid, request transcripts, pay for classes, buy books, and obtain academic counseling—all under one roof.
“This is the keyhole for entrance into the university,” Ramirez says. “People don’t have to be alone, on the other side of the door, trying to figure out how to get in anymore. What unlocks everyone’s future is in this building.”
A World of Difference at TAMIU
A collaborative Student Success division, housed in an all-encompassing—and air-conditioned—building has made a world of difference in terms of controlling administrative costs for the university. Streamlined procedures, cohesive communication, focused on helping students succeed, and a centralized location makes the university more efficient with both internal and external processes. Ramirez has worked diligently to achieve these efficiencies—and she notes that it is imperative for all universities to continue to evolve and improve in order to best serve today’s students.
“Their expectations are high—especially given the cost of higher education,” she says. “I’m really proud that we have such a strong, cohesive group of people who are committed to ensuring the mission of student success.”