Just about every institution’s leadership is thinking about how to connect with students from a range of backgrounds. Community colleges are focusing on outreach and engagement so that students realize the opportunities ahead—and can overcome any obstacles in their way.
The Office of Latino Outreach and Student Support Services at Bluegrass Community and Technical College (Ky.) works to provide access to educational opportunities for students, and then supports them once they enroll. Erin Howard, Hispanic/Latino outreach director there, shares her perspective on admissions and outreach.
We are seeing true growth in the economy now. Has there been growth in interest and applications?
As an institution, we have seen a rise in the number of applicants interested in pursuing higher education. However, like most institutions across the state of Kentucky, BCTC has seen a slight dip in enrollment from fall 2011 to fall 2012. In fact, a study recently published by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, titled “Knocking at the College Door,” showed that the number of high school graduates in Kentucky will decrease because of demographic decreases of non-Hispanic Caucasian youth. The report also showed that Latino graduates will triple by 2019 and there will be slight increases in African American and Asian American graduates.
Colleges must diversify recruitment efforts beyond the traditional college student to reach and support the 21st-century college student; students today are more likely to be nontraditional, first-generation, low-income and/or students of color.
How has your office been effectively connecting with students from a variety of backgrounds? What barriers or challenges are they grappling with?
Latino students are more likely to live in poverty, experience unemployment, and lack a bachelor’s degree as compared to the overall population. Latino students struggle with financial burdens. However, surveys conducted at the annual Latino Multicultural College Fairs held in Lexington and Louisville (Ky.) each year show that students overwhelmingly identified as barriers to their educational attainment a lack of parental understanding of college and support with college processes, a lack of support from teachers and counselors, and immigration-related issues.
How has your office responded?
We address those challenges and opportunities for growth through several strategies:
- prepare and coach families and students for college success;
- develop and support student engagement;
- formalize and strengthen transitions and transfers;
- develop and enrich cultural competency;
- impact institutional and agency policies and procedures to improve access and retention;
- advocate for Latino student success; and
- deepen and strengthen student engagement with professional organizations and networks. We have created programs to inform students and families about post-secondary opportunities and help them create plans to access and succeed in higher education beginning with middle school students.
Signature programs like the Latino Multicultural College Fair and the Latino Leadership and College Experience Camp for high school students provide exposure to college options and one-on-one college planning.
How do retention efforts relate to recruitment for your community college?
We view graduation and retention as the key recruitment strategy. That is, the number one marketing tool that can impact higher education within the Latino community, either positively or negatively, is word of mouth.
In the past few years, our office has expanded its services to include academic advising, college coaching, individualized scholarship coaching, transfer support, and student engagement and leadership.
Our goal is to drastically increase the number of Latino graduates who are prepared for transfer or career placement and who are willing to return to BCTC as mentors or volunteers for our students and programs. We believe the best way to encourage success of students is to connect successful students with those entering, struggling, and progressing toward their degree.