Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Cafécolleges Offer Unique Approach to Higher Ed Help

Cafécollege in San Antonio opened in 2010 to assist students of all ages with their higher education questions. Now, the center is being replicated in Houston. Source: Flickr/ via lee leblanc (CC BY 2.0)

A cup of coffee in a comfortable lounge may be just what students need to keep them relaxed about the college application process. At least, that’s what a new education-focused center in Houston is going for. 

Cafécollege Houston opened last week, modeled after San Antonio’s successful center with the same name – a “one stop shop” for teens and adults looking for guidance on college applications, financial aid, the college transfer process and more.

The coffee-house/education-hub hybrid – a vision of former San Antonio mayor, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro — has helped 51,000 students and families since it opened in 2010 and was recently recognized as a Bright Spot in Hispanic Education by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. 

Over 75 percent of the 13,000 high school and college students, and adult learners seeking services at Cafécollege last school year were Latino.

Adriana Contreras, executive director of the San Antonio Education Partnership, which runs Cafécollege, said in a phone interview that while the center doesn’t have specific programs designed for Latino students, Cafécollege used a grant from the Lumina Foundation to form an advisory group that studied culturally sensitive ways to reach Latinos in an effort combat the achievement gap between Latino students and their white peers. (The Education Writers Association has received grants from the Lumina Foundation.) Cafécollege also looked at ways to encourage Latino high schoolers to take dual-enrollment classes for college credit and plans to host a leadership summit next summer for Latino males in response to the federal My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

All of Cafécollege’s services are offered free of charge and in English and Spanish. 

“Handing a student the correct form isn’t enough,” the Houston Chronicle staff write in an editorial. “Cafécollege will take the extra step of having Project Grad staff and volunteers on hand to help families complete the forms. There’s also the simpler matter of the much-dreaded college essay. Wealthy students hire tutors to help them formulate their thoughts. Cafécollege will provide classes and tutoring.”

The Cafécollege website also offers practical information for users, such as an explanation of a college major, a list of colleges, and a list of terms to know, like “grants,” “loans” and “work study.”

Contreras said Cafécollege staff are known in the community as “gurus for financial aid” and have tackled complicated cases referred to them by area colleges. The group also prides itself for working to secure state financial aid for undocumented students – something not every nonprofit will do.

While Cafécollege Houston is the first location of its kind to use the same name, it’s not the first replication of San Antonio’s model, Contreras said. Multiple similarly-themed locations have sprung up – including one affiliated with Austin Community College – and area high schools have opened centers they refer to as “mini-Cafécolleges.”

The Houston location opened Dec. 5 across the street from a local high school.

“Café College [sic] Houston will transform the way that our communities learn about educational and career opportunities,” Houston Mayor Pro-Tem Ed Gonzalez, who helped to open the new location said in a statement on his website. “Folks from across our great city will be able to apply to college, search for financial aid, get career guidance, and prepare for acceptance exams – all under one roof. Café College Houston will empower our citizens and allow every Houstonian to achieve their dreams.”