Saturday, May 17, 2014

Census data shows Texas is attracting large numbers of out-of-state movers

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a final project from Spring 2014.

By Julia Ermlich and Lydia Schendel 

We’ve all heard about Austin’s recent population boom and the growing influx of residents from out of state. But in reality, people are moving in droves to all six of Texas’ largest cities.

According to the 2012 American Community Survey, more than 507,000 people moved to Texas from out of state in 2012. More of these migrants came from California than from any other state, comprising 12 percent of the total migration to Texas.

Raymond Perez, a radio-television-film senior at the University of Texas at Austin, moved to Texas from Los Angeles with his family when he was 5 years old. His family saw great promise in Texas’ education system, low cost of living and family-friendly cities.

“My parents wanted to escape the drama of Los Angeles and decided to move to New Braunfels through a job offer my father received,” Perez said. “Texas provided a stable environment where they could raise me with a solid foundation of education. My parents were able to afford to live in a much better neighborhood at a much lower cost. Some of my uncles and aunts even followed us to Texas. They sold their homes in California and purchased larger houses in safer neighborhoods, as many other California natives have done.”

Perez’ experience exemplifies a few of the primary reasons why people are moving to Texas from out of state. California’s public school system is notoriously underfunded and overpopulated, whereas Texas’ relatively high property tax rates provide schools with larger budgets and newer, larger facilities. In addition, Texas’ overall cost of living is much lower than in California, in part due to Texas’ lack of a state income tax and cheaper housing.

It’s clear why many people see Texas as an appealing alternative to their current state. But once they decide on the Lone Star State as their new home, which cities are they zeroing in on?

In 2012, more than 38,000 people moved to Houston from out of state. Houston was the top choice for new Texans, attracting 7.5 percent of the total migration to the state. However, Austin has the greatest concentration of out-of-state migrants, at 3.2 percent of the city’s total population.

So why are people choosing Austin and Houston over Texas’ other large cities? In both cases, economic prosperity is a primary factor.

The Houston metro area added over 105,000 jobs in 2012. As the fourth-largest city in the United States, Houston is home to 24 Fortune 500 companies' headquarters, making it an attractive option for job-seekers. Houston also has the third lowest overall cost of living among the nation’s 20 most populous metropolitan areas, according to the C2ER Cost of Living Index 2013 Annual Average.

Benito Juarez, senior manager of the Office of International Communities in Houston, said that along with the low cost of living, Houston’s thriving economy is likely the biggest motivating factor for out-of-state migrants.

“The economy here is a lot better than many other cities,” Juarez said. “That’s one reason why people are moving here. Houston didn’t suffer that much when the economic recession hit a few years ago, so helps in motivating people to come and stay here.”

Juarez explained that a rapid influx of new residents can certainly cause stresses on the resources and infrastructure of a city, even one as large as Houston. However, Juarez believes the the benefits of a constant flow of newcomers outweigh the negatives.

“Overall, the impact of people moving to Houston from many different places is positive, in all different areas - the economy, jobs, the culture - everything is positive,” Juarez said.

Houston’s reputation as a culturally-rich and economically-booming city draws people in from all corners of the country and the world. Juarez said that migration from out of state and abroad is increasing the diversity of the city.

“Houston is becoming more of an international city and people are realizing that. Just recently, Houston surpassed New York as one of the most diverse cities in the nation, so I think that’s something important to highlight,” Juarez said.

Ryan Robinson, City of Austin Demographer, said that what makes Austin so appealing to out-of-state migrants is a higher quality of life and a healthier economy than can be found in most other Texas cities and U.S. states. In 2010, Kiplinger's ranked Austin as the number one city for business growth in the next decade. Austin is well-known as a hotbed for high-tech and entrepreneurship. State government and the University of Texas also make Austin a promising destination for those seeking employment.

“I know this can be viewed as subjectively defined, but in very real terms, the quality of life differential between Austin and every other Texas city is pretty darn large.  Austin is a very open city, and so is Houston, but they are so different in size. But more simply, out-of-staters are moving to Texas, and to Austin in particular, because of the persistent economic differential within the country. Texas and Austin are still so much healthier economically than almost every other part of the country.”

Robinson said that while migration is a huge economic engine for Austin, it comes with unavoidable challenges wrought by pressure on infrastructure. But these challenges, he said, are pleasant problems to have.

“Cities in many parts of the country are dying on the vine because they are not attracting migrants, and yet it seems to be an all-on or all-off sort of situation,” Robinson said. “Managing growth is an almost impossible task for most rapid growth jurisdictions, but those same cities would never trade their position for one among the ranks of the battered and beleaguered. The City of Austin can be credited with implementing a recently adopted comprehensive plan which is aspirational, yet persuasively calls for a much smarter pattern of future urbanization.”

Die-hard Austinites would be proud to know that the city’s unofficial slogan, “Keep Austin Weird,” embodies what Robinson believes is perhaps the most compelling reason for moving to Austin.

“Austin encourages migrants to move here simply by being so open and vibrant,” Robinson said. “We just can't help it.”

Google Fiber to provide high-speed internet to community sites

EDITOR'S NOTE: A final project for Spring 2014.

By Maribel Molina

Click for visualization
In mid-2014, Austin will become the newest partner with Google Fiber, creating a network within the city limits providing internet connections up to 100 times faster than traditional broadband speeds. As part of the deal to bring the program to Austin, Google agreed to provide up to 100 sites around the city with free connections until the year 2023, a program called Community Connections.

The 100 Community Connection sites are comprised of public facilities and services as well as non-profit organizations. In total, 59 organizations make up the 100 Community Connection sites. Both the city hall and central public library downtown will get the Google Fiber connection, increasing the total of free-of-charge Google Fiber sites to 102.

John Spiers, Program Coordinator for Digital Inclusion with the City of Austin said there was a overwhelming interest in becoming a Google Fiber site.

“We had 310 total applications from over 158 different organizations (agencies were permitted to submit multiple applications for sites).” Spiers said. “Of the applications submitted, only eleven were disqualified for not complying with the application requirements.”

The Community Connections sites each fall under one of four categories. Fifty-four of the sites are classified as “Public (Government) Facilities and Entities.” These include Austin Independent School District’s locations at its 13 high schools and 24 branches of the Austin Public Library. The second-leading category is “Social, Health and Well-Being (including family services)” with 21, followed by “Arts, Culture and Community” with 13 and “Education, Workforce and Higher Education” with 12 sites.

The selection process included the city council passing a resolution including sets of questions addressing four topics. From there, the city would go on to present a site location list to Google.

“City staff, led by the Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs Office, administratively reviewed and assessed each application using a four tiered criteria matrix, comprised of Community, Innovation, Pragmatic, and Organization,” said Spiers.

This criteria matrix used was approved the an Austin City Council resolution and included a set of questions for each tier. For example, under Community, a question used in reviewing applications was “How much of the community will benefit from the connection?”

Other questions addressed topics such as whether the organization looked to expand services based on the broadband connection and if the agency already has access to an affordable high-speed connection.

Diversity also played a key role in the selection process, with the city staff considering geographic location and demographics in social, age and ethnic aspects.

Locations range from as far south as Akins High School on south First St. to as far north as Westwood High School in the Round Rock Independent School District. Seventeen locations reside in the 78702 zip code in East Austin, the most of any zip code area. The furthest site to the west is the African-American Youth Harvest near Highway 71 and 290 while the furthest eastern site is Decker Middle School in the Manor Independent School District.

Google Fiber offers packages including Gigabit+TV, Gigabit Internet and internet at today’s basic speeds, ranging in price from $120 a month to free. The Community Connection sites will receive only the Gigabit Internet, a service which normally costs approximately $70 a month for users.

Non-profit radio station KOOP currently employs three people, while volunteers run the controls, engineer and host the radio shows. The station applied to the Community Connections program after volunteers heard about it through the Austin City Council.

“We had our ear to the ground and are up-to-date with information,” McCarson said. “It was very instrumental to have the councilwoman [Laura Morrison] urge Google Fiber to include non-profits in the program.”

The station’s budget comes largely from membership drive donations and grant money. McCarson said a big benefit of the Google Fiber connection is that it is free. The station is broadcast on 91.7 FM during the morning and early afternoon hours, but is also available through an online streaming.

“We can only carry a limited number of streams before it starts to disintegrate and before it buffers,” McCarson said. “About 75 can be online without problems and after that, it’s very difficult to afford the connection for more.”

Having Google Fiber would also assist hosts by allowing them to work from home. One of the difficulties of doing so currently is the files for the show are so large and not easy to send back and forth. McCarson said the station wanted to serve a diverse audience.

“We’re all about bringing community members to the radio,” McCarson said. “With single moms and the handicapped, something can prevent them from coming to the studio.”

Austin is the second city in the country to partner with Google Fiber and the first in Texas. The broadband program launched in Kansas City, Kansas in 2014. Provo, Utah will be the third city to get the service.

Counties miss out on benefit of severance tax

EDITOR'S NOTE: A final project for Spring 2014.

By Michael Marcks

Recent surges in oil and gas production throughout Texas have been a boom for drilling companies, small businesses, and local economies. And, the state of Texas has stuffed accounts full of taxes on petroleum.

But the taxes on oil and natural gas, also called severance taxes, bypass local governments and go straight to two state accounts: the Rainy Day Fund and a fund for public education.

Severance taxes have generated billions of dollars for state coffers over the past five years because of increased oil and gas production around the state.

One of the most prolific oil and gas producing regions is called the Eagle Ford Shale, a 200-mile strip of South Texas that runs from the Mexican border to just north of Bastrop. Local leaders say that this arrangement is unfair.

Data from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts shows that oil and gas taxes from Eagle Ford Shale counties has generated over $3 billion in revenue between 2008 and 2013.
Three-quarters of the taxes on oil go to the state’s Rainy Day Fund, while the remaining quarter goes to a public education fund. All taxes on natural gas go to the Rainy Day Fund.

“The rainy day fund is pretty flush these days. And the bulk of that money comes from severance taxes from oil and gas revenues,” said Dr. Tom Tunstall, an economics professor at the University of Texas -- San Antonio.

State legislators feel that the severance taxes are a windfall for the state, and are using the money to fund other state needs. But all that revenue for the state has come at great cost to the communities where the drilling occurs. Communities in the Eagle Ford have been burdened with overpopulation, congestion on previously deserted roadways, and intense damage to county roads.

This has led local leaders to say that the severance tax arrangement is unfair. DeWitt County Judge Daryl Fowler says that state decision makers should use a portion of the severance tax to help pay for the damage that oil and gas development incurs. But that would also mean fewer profits for state accounts.

 “There would be no windfall if they would just recognize the damages, and somebody else is paying for it,” Fowler said. “And it really is ... more like a free lunch at someone else’ expense.”

Click to see visualization
Most states assess some kind of severance tax on their natural resources, but no two do it in exactly the same way.

All tax revenues from coal mining in West Virginia are distributed back to county governments. Coal-producing counties receive 75 percent of the funds, while non-coal producers receive 25 percent.

Colorado, which is currently undergoing an oil and gas boom of its own, splits severance taxes 50-50 between its general fund and counties that are affected by oil and gas production.

City and county governments in North Dakota receive a portion of severance taxes but local officials say that they don’t receive nearly enough. The state of North Dakota keeps over 90 percent of the severance taxes from certain counties.

Texas was the first state to collect a severance tax. The practice started in 1905 after the Spindletop oil well started to produce then-historic levels of oil. The severance tax code has undergone minor changes since then, but the main concept has remained the same.

But that could change in 2015 when the state legislature meets again. Local officials in the Eagle Ford have spent the past two years building a platform of severance tax reform to present. The Eagle Ford Consortium (EFC), a roundtable of oil and gas industry members and local government leaders, has hired a lobbyist to help pass bills that would deliver a percentage of severance taxes to local governments.

“Where the damage is being done … we’d like to see some of that money come back,” said EFC president Leodoro Martinez.

Fowler and others plan to propose a mechanism that sets aside a portion of the severance tax for counties that are affected by oil and gas development. But with money rolling into state accounts at a record rate, it’s unclear whether or not that is likely to happen.

“We’ve just got to come to some sort of an agreement that leaves us in a better position than we were before,” Fowler said. “It’s a once in a generation opportunity that comes along. The state’s taking advantage of it but we can’t.”

Farmers' Markets and Food Access in Travis County

EDITOR'S NOTE: A Final project for Spring 2014:

By Nora Ankrum and Kathryn Flowers

Evening commuters headed southeast on Airport Boulevard may be familiar—perhaps more so than they’d prefer—with the giant basket of peaches towering over the Shell gas station just past Manor Road. That intersection is a perpetual traffic bottleneck, which makes it a great place for a billboard advertising the Sustainable Food Center’s newest farmers’ market. Though weary drivers might see only an oversized basket of produce, that billboard actually reveals much about the evolving story of East Austin’s transformation and the challenges faced by a growing city as it navigates an increasingly complex urban food system.

In large part due to SFC’s research and advocacy work, East Austin has long been identified as one of the city’s most significant food deserts, with fewer grocery stores and a slimmer variety of fresh food than other areas of town. As a result, farmers’ markets have gravitated east of I-35 in an attempt to fill the nutritional gap, and the new SFC East market is the latest member of that growing club. (The Mueller Development, just a few blocks north of the giant peaches, hosts a Sunday market under the old airport hangar, and is also the site of a new HEB. Three miles to the south, HOPE Farmers Market hosts a small market at Plaza Saltillo. Boggy Creek Farm, two miles east of HOPE, has been selling fresh produce for 23 years.)

Location, Location, Location

Notably, East Austin is not the only part of town facing food-accessibility challenges. As this map (below) of urban Travis County demonstrates, accessibility decreases with distance from the city center, particularly in Southeast Austin but in other areas as well, including portions of Northeast and South Austin. Based on 2010 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the map shows the percentage of residents per census tract who are low-income and live at least one mile from a supermarket. The darker blue tracts are those with the highest shares of low-income/low-access residents; the lighter the blue, the fewer low-income/low-access residents. (Because the metrics for measuring accessibility differ for rural census tracts, this map includes urban tracts only.)

Low-Access/Low-Income Census Tracts and Farmers' Markets in Urban Travis County 

Proximity to grocery stores is particularly important for people with low incomes, as they may not have ready means of transportation. A preponderance of fast food restaurants and convenience stores tend to fill in the void—as those evening commuters on Airport Boulevard know, just past the SFC’s billboard sit a Taco Bell, Whataburger, Popeyes, Sonic, Jack in the Box, and McDonald’s, one after the other. Food deserts are characterized not necessarily by a lack of food but by a lack of variety, particularly of fresh produce—with serious implications for health outcomes.

All around the country, organizations like SFC are exploring farmers’ markets as part of the solution to this problem. The USDA’s declaration last August of a National Farmers Market Week is a testament to this growing focus on farmers’ markets, not just as a solution to accessibility issues but also as a way to help small farms stay afloat, keep economies local, and address a laundry list of environmental ills. The USDA administers a national directory of farmers’ markets that turns 20 this year, and the number of markets has more than quadrupled since its founding. In 2012 alone, the number of winter markets increased by 52%.

Supply and Demand

Nonetheless, more isn’t necessarily better. As the map demonstrates, though Travis County has several active farmers’ markets, few are located in the tracts most in need, and there aren’t nearly enough in total to reach all low-access communities, particularly in the tracts farthest from the city center.

At the same time, the current number of markets may already be challenging the capacity of local farms, says Kate Vickery, a food policy expert and graduate student at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs and Community and Regional Planning Program. Vickery notes that Austin already has too many markets for its farmer base. “Direct consumer sales” are best for farmers, she says, but that’s a challenge when they have to “staff five markets instead of one, without an increase in overall sales.” Moreover, she adds, “the customer base just isn’t growing that fast.” Many farmers share the sentiment, she says, that there are about the same number of customers today as there were a few years ago, when there were fewer markets.

While local organizations like the Moontower Co-op are working to reduce barriers to entry for new farmers, market managers are working to expand the customer base by increasing access. But it’s clear that proximity is only one of many components to accessibility. For instance, while location is key, so is connectivity. Though some Travis County farmers’ markets are served by bus routes, the farther a market gets from the city center—and the closer to low-access populations—the fewer public transportation options there are. (Click on any farmers’ market on the map to see which bus routes are within a half-mile of a market.)

Katherine Lieberknecht, a lecturer in UT’s Community and Regional Planning program, points out that even seemingly walkable distances can be problematic. “Miles are measured as the crow flies,” she says, but even something as simple as a fence ringing a large grocery store property can limit access. While solutions can be as simple as a well-placed “neighbor gate,” other factors also matter, she says. “Traffic, noise, shade, lighting, and safety” all come into play.

Double the Dollar, Double the Effort 

Accessibility isn’t just about geography—economics matter, too. “Farmers’ markets aren’t always cheaper,” says SFC Food Access Manager Claudia Harding. “That, to me, is not a form of access.” Recent studies show that local farmers’ market prices in some places—in Seattle, Iowa, and Vermont, for example—do beat out prices at local supermarkets, but no such study has taken place in Austin.

To address affordability issues, the SFC is part of a federal pilot program encouraging participants in SNAP (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program) and WIC (SNAP for Women, Infants, and Children) to spend their benefits at farmers’ markets. The Double Dollars program (prominently advertised on SFC’s billboard) uses a voucher system to double the value of each dollar spent using WIC or SNAP. The system is admittedly complicated, though. It can be used only for fruits and vegetables and only for amounts up to $20 per week. Moreover, while several farmers’ markets accept vouchers, only SFC distributes them, so customers have to shop at one of SFC’s four markets in order to receive Double Dollar vouchers in the first place.

Nonetheless, just a year-and-a-half into the program, the system is improving, says Harding. She points out that administrative changes effective in March—based on SFC feedback from the pilot’s first year—have already begun to improve the cumbersome logistics for vendors. Ideally, the program will improve to the point that all farmers’ markets can participate. Another federal program—the Farmers Market Nutritional Program (FMNP)—provides funds to be spent specifically at farmers’ markets. The most recent federal farm bill increases funding allocated to this program, Harding notes. But like Double Dollars, FMNP vouchers are distributed only at certain locations. The table below shows which markets distribute and accept the various federal nutrition program benefits.

Weekday Warriors

Boggy Creek Farm (technically a farm stand rather than a market) does not accept federal program funds, but as co-owner Carol Ann Sayle points out, "Accessibility isn't all about the financial aspect. It's also about when you're open." Beginning last month, Boggy Creek is experimenting with a new schedule doubling its market days from two to four each week (through July 31) in order to reach people with busy schedules.

Lieberknecht agrees that the traditional market schedule is a “limiting factor” for access. Farmers’ markets are usually “structured as a fun, leisurely weekend activity,” says Lieberknecht, “but for working families, that can be challenging.” Other markets are joining Boggy Creek in moving beyond the weekend model, including SFC, Pflugerville, and Green Gate. (See the timeline below for the schedules of all Travis County farmers’ markets.)

SFC’s East market, as advertised on its billboard, is open “Tuesdays/Martes 3-7pm” in an effort to reach people on the way home from work. The market, which has been open for one year at its current location (on MLK Boulevard, just west of Airport), represents a second stab at trying to reach an underserved market. Originally, says Harding, SFC—drawing on community feedback and focus group research—located the market farther east, with a morning schedule. When that arrangement didn’t draw enough customers, SFC had to make a trade-off, moving the market away from the lowest-access tracts but closer to major commuting arterials and bus routes. The new location also abuts the MLK Jr. stop of the MetroRail (another notable feature advertised on the billboard).

Farm to Everywhere

Market managers are increasingly exploring creative ways to reach people outside the traditional model. Richie Romero, founder of the Lone Star Farmers Market, says that unfamiliar foods themselves are a significant barrier. “People are reluctant when presented with unusual vegetables,” he says. He works with chefs to cook on-site (so that customers can “smell the smells” and learn how to prepare the food) and to produce to-go meals that are available at a variety of locations. He also plans to open a farm-to-table restaurant showcasing doable recipes sourced from native foods.

According to Jessie Curry of HOPE Farmers Market, mobile farm stands—such as the one HOPE will debut this summer—are another way to bring food and education to people where they work or go to school. Based on a similar philosophy, SFC has Farm to Work and Farm to School programs that follow the membership-based Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model to bring fresh produce to participants on a regular schedule. Carla Jenkins of the Texas Farmers Market partners with Keep Austin Fed to ensure that leftover food doesn’t go to waste, and the market hosts cooking programs focused on children’s education.

With the school year winding down, children who otherwise rely on free and reduced-price lunches face particular challenges in the summer. As program coordinator for the Andy Roddick Foundation, Brigid Mejia works with low-income children to improve educational outcomes through an emphasis on physical health. From her headquarters in far East Austin, near Decker Lane and MLK Boulevard, Mejia notes that the nearest grocery store is 11 miles away: “In terms of accessibility,” she says, “I’ve never seen it so in-your-face.” The foundation’s summer camp feeds children twice a day and sends them home “with a heavy snack,” she says. As part of the program, she has also arranged for a mobile, “mini” farmers’ market program, with help from HOPE and others. “Kids will leave with bags of produce,” she says.

A Culture of Access

“On the surface, yes, it’s a great idea” to address food-accessibility challenges with farmers’ markets, says Harding. “But when you look at it, they don’t address access in the way we want them to.” In every aspect of the dilemma—from proximity and connectivity to affordability and basic scheduling—farmers’ markets face limitations. Nonetheless, she notes, they are making great strides, particularly with increased use of WIC, SNAP, and FMNP. It’s clear that while farmer’s markets are just a part of the solution, they are still a growing part. Right now, says Lieberknecht, “the agricultural system is so uniform.” In Travis County, farmers’ markets—and the new models of access they are exploring—are bringing much-needed diversity to that system.

Check in for Love: More People Going Online, Using Apps to Find Potential Mates

EDITOR'S NOTE: A final project from Spring 2014.

By Fauzeya Rahman

It's now more socially acceptable to find a potential love interest online than it was nine years ago, according to research from the Pew Research Center on online dating.

According to a 2013 survey, perceptions have changed significantly in three key areas:

  • 65 percent of everyone surveyed agree with the statement that online dating is a good way to meet people
  • 58 percent of those surveyed agree that online dating lets people find a better match by getting to know people better
  • 21 percent of people surveyed agreed that people who use online dating sites are desperate

Online relationship expert Kevin Murray sees the change in attitude toward online dating as necessary. He's with the online dating group eFlirt Expert, a company that helps people create online profiles on dating sites to better attract interested parties.

Murray and his team work with clients to modify their profiles and select the right dating sites for what they are looking for in a relationship.

“The most common service we offer is a profile makeover (eMakeover). The majority of our clients have trouble writing their ‘about me’ sections – which is typically the area of the profile that gives the most background and insight into their personalities.”

"One of the biggest misconceptions around online dating is that it’s full of 'weirdos' and it 'doesn’t work,'" he added. "Online dating is really a platform used to connect with other singles you’d normally never cross paths with. There’s 'weird' people at your gym, work and local bars – don’t make online dating the scapegoat for any dating insecurities you may have."

For social media specialist Katy Umana, meeting people online can be a convenient method when one doesn’t have time to meet people in person.

"Getting to know someone virtually can be convenient especially if you have a hectic schedule," she said. "In the past, I was working full-time, attending classes part-time and taking part in extracurricular activities like sports reporting. Being able to communicate with someone online and have conversations when you normally wouldn't be available to meet up in person made it easier to get to know someone. It also takes the pressure away from any awkwardness. I've noticed some guys are more direct online than they would be offline in a social situation."

Online dating seems to meet the needs of various age groups, with all demographics seeing an increase in online dating in recent years. 66 percent of online daters have gone out on a date with someone they met online, up from 43 percent of online daters in 2005, the last time Pew conducted a study of online dating.

As online dating and social media play a bigger role in our online (and real) lives, researching potential love interests or keeping tabs on old flames also became more common, according to Pew’s data.

For Linda Mena, researching people via social media is a given in today’s online dating landscape.

“I’ve used social media to check on a past love interest,” Mena said. “I think it's human nature to be curious about what could have been or where they are in life.”

She also added that she’s “unfriended” past love interests because sometimes it’s easier to cut all ties when a relationship has ended badly.

Online Perceptions vs. Reality

With more of our daily lives carried out online, an online profile can be an accurate reflection of a person, maybe. According to the survey, 22 percent of online daters ask someone else to review or help set up their profile. Women are twice as likely as men to ask for help.

"I did ask for suggestions on what would help me have a good profile. I had friends rate pictures I had to make sure they were consistent with how I actually looked. It's a good way of making sure you are as honest as you can be," Mena said.

Murray says balancing the two components of your identity are important.

"In online dating you really have two first impressions. The first is your profile and the second is meeting face-to-face. We have to make sure there is a happy balance of someone’s ideal self and their actual self. The ideal self is not who they truly are, but what they hope or want to be, whereas the actual self is the truth and what we ultimately want our clients to be comfortable displaying."

Friendship, Relationships On Demand

For Murray of eFlirt Expert, he sees online dating becoming an even bigger part of our lives moving forward, with interactions taking place wherever you are. Much like 'checking in' or tagging social media posts with your location, GPS proximity features now alert users who's interested and maybe in the same room as them. Apps such as Tinder use this feature, but now even the older online dating platforms have added geolocating features.

“Dating apps with a GPS proximity feature are getting very popular with the younger generation,” he said. “It encourages people to meet up quickly and not spend lots of time sending messages back and forth."

As online dating grows and as seen in the chart above, perceptions surrounding online dating will change. Now that people are more used to sharing information and posting about themselves online on Facebook or Twitter, this can eventually transition into a person being more comfortable posting about themselves on an online dating platform. See a timeline of some popular social media and dating sites below.

"I think a few generations from now online dating will be the norm (it almost is) when it comes to matching singles," Murray said. "Hopefully we’ll get past the point where it’s no longer common place to see a dating profile with a headline that says ‘let’s say we met somewhere else.’”

Student newspapers in Texas struggle to move online

EDITOR'S NOTE: A final project from Spring 2014.

By Bobby Blanchard and Becca Gamache 

Even as student newspapers across the state face declines and cuts in their print product, an analysis of every student newspaper in Texas shows that student media outlets are still slowly adapting to the digital age of journalism — if at all in some cases.

Just one third of student newspapers in Texas are updating their websites every weekday, according to authors’ analysis of the 37 public four-year universities in Texas. Thirty-six percent of student newspapers in Texas are updating their social media platforms everyday, and only 21 percent of student newspapers in Texas do both. This analysis did not include weekends, and only counted weekdays.

UT journalism senior lecturer Robert Quigley said these newspapers should be updating their websites and social media accounts daily, because it’s the same practice professionals have.

“They’re missing a teaching opportunity for their students — an educational opportunity for their students,” Quigley said. “Any university newspaper that is not using all of the digital tools that professional organizations are doing, they’re not giving the full experience of what students are going to be facing.”

Quigley, who is the former social media editor for the Austin American-Statesman and teaches a class on social media at UT, said it is surprising to him that so few student newspapers are digital on a daily basis.

“You would think that college newspapers would be ahead of professional ones, in this regard,” Quigley said.  “I think it’s kind of sad as a long-time journalist looking back, that we have a whole new generation of journalists that are coming up that are not getting much of any kind of modern experience at their colleges. That’s really disconcerting.”

Midwestern State University assistant professor and director of student media Bradley Wilson says some student media outlets in Texas can sometimes struggle to recruit a large staff.

“While sometimes it's a hard sell for students who repeatedly beat over the head with the demise of the mass media, to me it's a great time to be involved in the mass media,” Wilson said in an email.

At The Wichitan, the student newspaper Wilson advises, Wilson said the paper prints an average between eight and ten pages weekly, though he said they could probably print 12 pages if they had a bigger staff.

There are four universities in Texas who do not have a student newspaper at all.  University of Houston-Victoria Provost Jeffery Cass said there is not a call for one on their campus right now.

“There wasn’t a call for a student publication and we don’t currently have a journalism program, but that doesn’t mean that we are not interested in one day starting one,” Cass said. “Student newspapers and publications require resources and programs. We recently downgraded our campus, and right now, there’s not enough of what we need to get that up and running.”

Previously, the university has had several newspapers spanning through the 1970s to the 1990s. There was also an online student publication from 2001-2008. Cass said there could be demand for a student newspaper to return again in the future.

“Interestingly enough, when I worked at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, the kids voted on whether they wanted to maintain a printed publication and it turns out that they wanted the printed paper over the digital copy,” Cass said. “The problem is it’s just too hard to maintain all of that. We can’t start a publication without expertise and putting in the resources up front.”

The Real Reason For Dropouts

EDITOR'S NOTE: A final project from Spring 2014.

By Jewel Sharp and Cooper Haynie

High school graduation rates in the United States have reached an historic high with 80% of students receiving their high school diplomas in 2012. However, according to the National Center for Education statistics, an estimated 1.1 million students of the 2012 high school class did not graduate.

The country may be celebrating a milestone, but there are still millions of young adolescents who are now facing the negative social stigma that comes with making a decision that is often not a choice. Poverty alone is a key factor in many students dropping out of high school, but the problem is more in depth than just poverty. Unlike universities, public schools are free and therefore the problem is not the students being unable to afford an education, the problem stems from social and cultural differences.

Daniel Fridman, professor of Sociology at the University of Texas says, “In school, the students come from different backgrounds, whether it be middle class, upper, or lower and the poorer kids do not have a lot of the language skills or cultural capital that is really valued in an education institution.”

Fridman continued to say that this essentially leads the students from low-income families to do worse in their school work compared to the other students. “Essentially what was social inequality becomes legitimized in school as people being better or worse. They drop out because they think they’re not cut out for it.”

The social classes create invisible barriers between peers and the poorer students are thus rejected based on the things they are taught outside of school and from their environments. This may explain why poverty alone is a strong correlating factor for most students, except for Hispanic students.

Hispanic students show a lower correlation between poverty and high school dropout rates, and this could be in part due to this cultural barrier they face instead.

Data shows that Hispanic students generally do just as well as other students, regardless of whether or not they live below the poverty line, except for near the U.S. and Mexico border. Here, a cultural and language barrier causes young kids to perform poorly in school compared to their peers.

Western Texas and along the Rio Grande Valley typically have a higher percentage of people who speak Spanish as their first language, specifically Dimmit County and Zavala County. These two counties have the highest dropout rates in the state, and the highest Hispanic dropout rate in the state.

When the majority of the school speaks in another language there is an obvious setback that can snowball into a further learning gap. There are ESL courses provided for non-native speakers, however, these counties also have some of the highest poverty rates in the state, and likely cannot afford enough teachers to efficiently educate these students.

When the Texas Education Agency was asked about how they help low-income schools in poverty stricken areas of the state, DeEtta Culbertson, media contact for the TEA, directed us to a page for grant applications for schools and offered no further comment.

This map shows dropout rates for different students in every county in Texas, with the exception of Loving and Kenedy counties, as there was no data available for those counties. Also note Dimmit, Zavala and La Salle counties in deep red, showing the highest dropout rates.

Medical Services Is Top Complaint For Texas’ Inmates In 2013

EDITOR'S NOTE: A final project form Sprint 2014.

By Marissa Barnett, Alex Dropkin

Texas inmates filed more complaints to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards about medical services in 2013 than any other allegation.

Last year, the agency received more than 1,200 complaints from inmates. Those that fell within the jurisdiction of the commission, meaning inmate complaints that alleged a jail was violating the minimum standards set by the Legislature, were investigated by agency inspectors. Of the 461 complaints the TCJS investigated throughout the year, more than half were related to medical services.

Click to see full visualization
A common complaint about medical services is the time it takes to receive care, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project, an advocacy group that works with prison and jail populations. County jails are notoriously understaffed and may not have any nurses or medical practitioners, said Patricia Kelley, an organization spokesperson.

“We’ve heard from people who have been given aspirin for a broken arm or who waited a week to be seen,” Kelley said.

Though Harris and Dallas county, the two most populous in Texas, led the state with 27 and 24 inmate complaints, respectively, many smaller counties with fractions of the population had high numbers of complaints. McLennan County, which includes Waco, had more than half (15) the complaints of either

Harris or Dallas in 2013, even though it has less than 250,000 residents.

The jail population in Texas hovered near 65,000 people, according to the agency’s 2013 annual report.
The top five categories for complaints were medical services, other, food services, sanitation and services. Violations fall into one of 16 categories, any complaint that falls outside of those categories is filed as other or miscellaneous.

“‘Other’ can range all over the board,” Woods said. “It may be that the jail doesn’t provide tennis shoes during recreation time or anything imaginable that falls outside of our jurisdiction.”

Not Part of the Statistic: The Story of Two First-Generation Longhorns

EDITOR'S NOTE: A final project from Spring 2014.

By Claudia Resendez

According to the United States Census Bureau, the U.S. Hispanic population has grown from 14.6 million people in 1980, to nearly 52 million as of 2011.

The animated GIF below depicts the change in population and shows the areas of highest population density throughout the country from 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2011. This GIF was created from images by the The Atlantic Cities newspaper from Pew Research datasets.

With the increase in U.S. Hispanic population, “there has also been significant progress for Hispanics in achieving high school levels of attainment but much less for college attainment,” according to Steve Murdock, founding director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University.

According to the Census Bureau, 44.38 million people 18 years and older, of all races, held a bachelor’s degree in 2013. Of these, only 3.36 million were Hispanic, meaning that of the U.S. population who holds a bachelor’s degree, only 7.57 percent were of Hispanic decent.

“I believe [the low percentage] is influenced by costs associated with college attendance,” said Murdock.

The estimated undergraduate flat-rate tuition and fees total for the 2013 – 2014 school year at The University of Texas at Austin was $9,346 – 10,738, plus $8,973 – $11,148 for room and board, according to the website.

Gabriela Fernandez is a first-generation student of Mexican decent pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts with a focus in Spanish alongside a Bachelor or Science in Communication Studies with a focus in Corporate Communication, at The University of Texas at Austin. Originally from Brownsville, Texas, Fernandez was awarded the prestigious Gates Millennium scholarship with which she is able to pay for her costly tuition.

Gates Millenium Scholars Program Logo

“Without the [Gates Millennium] scholarship, I don’t think I would have been able to pursue a degree at a university like UT,” said Fernandez. “My parents do not have the means to pay for my tuition and I owe everything to having been chosen for this award.”

According to the program’s website, the Gates Millennium Scholars Program selects 1,000 talented students each year to receive a good-through-graduation scholarship to use at any college or university of their choice.

Fernandez is scheduled to graduate from The Moody College of Communication on May 16 and was recently accepted into Columbia University to pursue a master’s in public health, for which her Gates Millennium scholarship is paying $30,000 of the annual $60,000 annual tuition.

Upon graduation, she will become part of the estimated 22 percent of the total U.S. Hispanic population who holds a bachelor’s degree in the Arts, Humanities or a related field.

Field of study for the U.S. Hispanic Population in 2012TotalPercentage
Science and Engineering1,360,10634
Science and Engineering related fields335,5808.4
Arts, Humanities and Other880,77522

“There was a point were a bachelor’s degree was simply a dream and honestly, a master’s degree had never crossed my mind – much less from an Ivy League school,” said Fernandez.

Fernandez was fortunate enough have been awarded the help of this program to pursue higher education, but that is not the case for all Hispanic students in need.

Jessica Sosa is also a first-generation student from Brownsville, Texas, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies with a focus in Speech Pathology, at The University of Texas. She also does not have the help of her parents, but was not awarded any scholarships, and although she has been awarded a few grants for low-income students, still has to work two jobs in order to pay for room and board.

“It’s really hard, I’m not going to lie,” said Sosa. “There have certainly been a few times where I thought about quitting and dropping out because it was simply too hard.”

Sosa is currently a sales associate at T-mobile in Riverside and an operations assistant at Planet Fitness, a gym in the same area. She works more than 40 hours a week combined at both jobs, and is also enrolled full-time in order to complete her degree by her expected graduation date this year.

“I never thought I would make it this far,” said Sosa. “This is my biggest accomplishment so far.”

Although she is not yet certain of what she will be doing after graduation, Sosa is currently applying to speech therapy assistant positions throughout Texas and hopes to hear back from one of these potential employers in the near future.

The number of Hispanic students in the U.S. whom actually walk across the stage is minimal, but both Sosa and Fernandez will not be a part of that statistic. Come May 16, after much work, determination and different sets of struggles, both girls will become part of the small number of U.S. Hispanic whom actually become college graduates.

The chart below shows the distribution in educational attainment for the U.S. Hispanic population in 2011. The dark red represents the smallest portion of the chart and also the part of the U.S. Hispanic population that actually become college graduates.

AISD teacher salaries among lowest in Travis County

EDITOR'S NOTE: A final project from the Spring 2014 course.

By Charity Lee and Chris Caraveo

Evidence shows that the rich only get richer when it comes to management versus the teachers who work for them in Austin schools.

The Austin Independent School District recently released the first draft of next year’s salary schedule for teachers. It depicts a 3 percent raise for teachers since last year, which is a one time thing according to the board. This document could particularly catch the eye of millennials moving into the teaching field who want to find economic stability in their field. This could also echo the concern of parents who want to make sure that educators are happy so their child does better in class.

There has been a substantial amount of debate and legislation centered around district progress of its students and the compensation of the teachers. Upon surveying records for AISD salaries there is a large gap between what educators and administrators earn. A teacher can come into the field making $43,286, which is more than decent but as time goes on room for growth proves to be incredibly slow. A teacher in the system who has taught for 5 or more years can only expect to earn about $1,000 more than that. However, make the leap to management and you can expect to earn more than half of that. There is ample room for improvement.

Angelica Evans, director of career services at the University of Texas Law School, is a parent of two kids who have experienced AISD education. Evans says that the teachers who care about their students must often dip into precious personal funds to get the job done.

“In general, many teachers are underpaid and not provided with the resources they need to effectively do their jobs. Those that really care end up spending a good amount of their personal funds for school supplies.”

The Texas Tribune compiled an extensive list of AISD employee salaries, from the superintendent and principals to teachers. This data was gathered in the summer of 2013, and so represents salaries from the 2012-2013 school year. The graphic below displays the salary gap between administrators (superintendent, principals, etc.) and teaching positions (teachers, assistants, etc.)

Click for visualization

An articled posted by the Statesman this year points out that those earning six-figures in AISD management have increased 65% in the past five years. According to AISD 74% of the budget goes to salaries. When taking even a closer look, you will see that former superintendent, Meria Carstarphen, are among the districts highest earners.

This is particularly alarming when you consider the fact that out of the 10 school districts in Travis County, Austin ranks a low eighth when it comes to teacher compensation. AISD must also issue about $160 million to the state for recapture, a process set in place also nicknamed “Robin Hood,” where wealthy districts must submit money to surrounding areas with less property to profit from.

Overall, core class teachers (math, science, English, social studies) are not making near as much as non-core subjects. Elective class teachers are earning a higher average salary than those who teach the topics that students will be tested on.

Click for visualization

Millennials should not worry too much about starting salaries coming out of college. Mario Pina, a fourth grade teacher at Perez Elementary School, graduated last year and immediately got hired after his interview at Perez went better than the rest. He found a principal and teachers who shared the same philosophy of student individualization, and the interview went beyond that. His current co-workers cared about him as a person and his personality suited the position best.

Though this is his first year teaching, Pina said he is not concerned about his current salary.

“I’m not worried about money at the moment,” Pina said. “I do think about the future and once I get into a relationship and have a family. How is my salary going to affect the way I’m living now and is it going to be a sufficient amount depending on how much my spouse makes? Those are the kind of decisions we’ll have to make.”

All that is far from now. Today Pina just focuses on individualizing each student to provide the best instructional methods for each of them.

While Pina may not be concerned about his income right now, that does not mean other teachers are affected by their earnings. It all comes down to lifestyle. Pina selected his apartment before he knew where he would work.

“I’m a single male teacher with no children,” Pina said. “So other teachers who have children definitely have to plan where they live and what kind of luxurious life they want to live.”

Click for visualization

Concerning salaries and benefits, teachers opt into a certain benefits plan at the beginning of the school year. Coverages such as health, dental and vision are available in various packages. Whichever plan a teacher enrolls in at the start of the year determines how great his or her benefits are as the year progresses.

When asked about whether teacher benefits should be modified, Pina said “As far as insurance policies, no. As far as salaries, that’s a whole different subject.”

The gap between teacher and administration salaries has long been an important discussion. Teachers want better wages in the event that resources like books and supplemental materials are scarce. Administrative positions, however, remain the overseers of the schools and districts, so with more responsibility comes a higher income than teachers.

As the salary gap continues, teachers will have to manage more frugal lives and wait for the day when money is not the problem it is now.