The Value of College and Why Education Matters
May 18, 2016 | Home and Family
Dr. Juliet García, a senior advisor to the chancellor in the University of Texas System, doesn’t believe you can put a price tag on the value of education. A first-generation college student, García earned her doctorate and became the first female Mexican-American president of a college or university. She also helped bring a four-year university to Brownsville, Texas, giving an underserved population access to higher education.
“Talk to people who haven’t been able to go to college and wanted to,” García said. “They would give anything to have that opportunity.”
From a young age, García’s parents instilled in her and her brothers the value of education. Although her parents had the aptitude to attend college, they did not have the means, and they regretted it their entire lives.
To make sure their children did not face the same challenge, García’s father began putting away $10 each month for each child’s education. As his salary increased, so did the amount he saved. If an expense came up, the family found other ways to pay for it instead of dipping into the college fund.
“It was clear to us that college must have been so important that our father saved every month for our entire lives to make sure we had that opportunity,” García said. “It was not a matter of whether we were going. It was a matter of what we would do when we got there and how we would excel.”
When García and her husband began dating seriously in college, her father made him promise to make sure she earned her degree. García’s husband not only encouraged her to finish her bachelor’s degree, but also to get her master’s degree and doctorate.
“He sensed that I had some capacity that would be useful to us and that we shouldn’t squander it,” García said. “The same kind of support that I had from my father I got from my husband, who always thought I could do more than even I thought I could.”
Although she often turned to her family to “recharge her battery,” García knows not everyone is so lucky. Some students may need to look elsewhere for that support, such as from friends, teachers and mentors. And while external support helps, students should ultimately find strength from within.
“We have to find what recharges us and what gives us strength and run toward it,” García said.
In 1986, García became the president of the community college in Brownsville, Texas, and wanted to bring more opportunities to its students.
“We were anticipating what skills students would need for jobs in the new century, and I got worried,” she said. While there are certainly careers that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, García wanted to give the option of a four-year degree to those students who wanted to pursue one, and that meant removing some of the barriers.
Because many local students could not afford to leave their families to attend college, García brought college to them. She led the charge for the community college to partner with the University of Texas System so students could earn bachelor’s degrees without leaving home.
García said, “We decided to reinvent higher education and meet the market we were trying to serve,” which consisted mostly of Hispanic, low-income, first-generation college students. The partnership launched the University of Texas at Brownsville, now part of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which has 14 colleges and schools, including a medical school.
“Never again will individuals who grow up in South Texas fail to fulfill their dream of getting a college education because they could not afford to leave to attend college,” García said.
García’s father and uncles were not able to go to college, but they all supported their children as they pursued advanced degrees. At family gatherings, the brothers bragged about what their children were doing. They were proud of the fact that the next generation was able to accomplish what they could not.
“It’s interesting how quickly in one generation you can move exponentially if kids have confidence and if they’re helped along the way,” García said. “It’s a constant support system that makes it possible to do what you do. Nobody claims to do it by him- or herself.”
With the support of her family, both financially and emotionally, she fulfilled her parents’ dream of not only attending college, but excelling in her career and doing her part to give others the same opportunity. García is proof that a bit of financial planning and diligence can open the doors to a wide range of opportunities.