(March 15, 2013) -- Maricela Oliva, UTSA associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies, envisions a time when secondary schools, community colleges and universities collaborate to facilitate student progress from school to university and even graduate school. She also envisions the creation of a college-going culture in schools that promotes the inclusion and success in college of non-traditional, first-generation and underrepresented students.
"In Texas, we're riding the crest of a wave that's going to hit everyone else in the future," said Oliva. "We have rapidly changing demographics. Yet, we're working to meet our Closing the Gaps goals for all student groups. Texas is addressing challenges and learning things now that should inform the nation's educational policies in the next decade, particularly in the areas of college readiness and success."
As an educational leadership scholar, Oliva has long been advocating for changes in the way the United States supports the educational success of students throughout the educational pipeline, particularly in college. In the fall, she was elected to the College Board Academic Assembly Council for a three-year term. There she has found like-minded advocates from high schools, community colleges and universities who are working together to promote college readiness and success.
"We are finding that particularly among under-represented and first generation groups, students are not choosing a college that provides the right fit," Oliva said. "We're seeing students move right into community college when oftentimes a four-year college is a better fit for them. It is our hope that ongoing conversations about this as well as new tools will help students to find the college that helps them reach their full potential."
In 2012, the College Board launched Big Future, an online tool to help students navigate the challenging process of comparing, applying to and financing college. The tool also helps undecided students explore career options. Oliva and others on the College Board Academic Assembly Council are working to promote the online tool to get it into the hands of the people who need it most.
Oliva expects the College Board Academic Assembly Council to address the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, considering common core state standards as well as the academic content of AP and Subject Matter examinations.
"The College Board exists to serve its members," she said. "That means you get secondary and post-secondary institutional members at the same table to discuss the implications of educational policy. The College Board operates largely from the bottom up. Member organizations collectively decide what issues and needs are their priorities. Then, elected representatives like the Academic Assembly Council work together to develop solutions or approaches that make sense across levels."
Ultimately, the College Board will make policy recommendations to Congress, articulating members' views of how to successfully address the changing educational needs of the nation's population. They hope the discussions will inform policy that specifically helps students make the transition from high school to college.
And with Oliva on board, UTSA is right in the midst of the discussions.
"At UTSA, our students are unique and so depend on us to put support systems in place that meet their needs," she said. "They come from diverse backgrounds and have the capacity, as future leaders, to thrive and excel in college. It is my hope that I can articulate the needs of our students, our institution and our state so our experience, what we're seeing right here in San Antonio, informs the national agenda that the College Board is trying to move forward."
Oliva was raised in the small rural town of Donna, Texas, and was the first in her family to graduate from college. Today, she has more than 25 years of experience in higher education and specializes in research focusing on school-university collaboration and policy to promote college access; access to college for Latino, underrepresented and diverse students; and cross-cultural issues in higher education. In addition to serving on the faculty of UTSA and other Texas universities, Oliva has worked with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. She is also the author of "Leadership for Social Justice: Making Revolutions in Education," which has been published in two editions by Allyn & Bacon.
The College Board was founded in the early 1900s and now includes 6,000 colleges, universities and schools to promote college readiness. The Academic Assembly Council is one of three College Board councils. It includes advisory committees for the arts, English, history, social sciences, mathematical sciences, science and world language.
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UTSA Main Campus
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