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Higher ed works to better support Hispanic students

Funding, enrollment opportunities encourage inclusion of this often-underserved, but growing, population
University Business, June 2016
Celebrating while educating: At Manhattan College, the student group Fuerza Latina performs to share Latin American and Caribbean culture with others.
Celebrating while educating: At Manhattan College, the student group Fuerza Latina performs to share Latin American and Caribbean culture with others.

The rapid increase in the Hispanic population on American campuses requires administrators to tailor support services to this new wave of students that’s forecast to continue growing.

Support from three federal grant programs is available to help colleges that qualify as Hispanic-Serving Institutions, or HSIs. The funding can cover student support services and other initiatives—such as professional development to train administrators, faculty and staff to work more effectively with students whose first language may not be English.

Many of the 2.9 million Hispanic-American students are first-generation college attendees and considered underserved educationally. Hispanic students also enter college most in need of extra academic support, says Antonio Flores, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).

Summer bridge programs may offer refresher courses prior to freshmen year and introduce students to campus services and personnel. And participating students can sometimes then retake placement exams to avoid having remedial courses during the school year, says Beatriz Ceja, director of the Hispanic-Serving Institution Division in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education.

Crucial cultural impacts

The University of New Mexico—an HSI where 41 percent of the student body is Hispanic—applies its $15 million in Title V and STEM grants to increase the success of its Latino students, says Kim Kloeppel, the chief operating officer in student affairs.

UNM actively recruits through its office in the Mexico City World Trade Center. And at the beginning of the academic year, the “Raza Junta” event familiarizes all Hispanic students with different campus offices, student organizations and services.

The university also integrates Hispanic culture across campus, says Kloeppel. El Centro de la Raza provides development services to prepare Hispanic students for a competitive job market. Undergrads and graduate students have access to research opportunities, workshops, fellowships and career guidance. And the university’s Chicano Studies department and Southwest Hispanic Research Institute, composed of tenured Hispanic faculty, further highlight the big role Latino culture plays on campus.

In fall 2015, the school created the Hispanic-Serving Institutions in the Future committee to advocate for Hispanic students and to study HSI issues.

Professional development helps staff maintain progressive attitudes toward Latino culture, says Flores of HACU. “These efforts should help faculty and administrators to better understand how cultural and linguistic differences can be an asset, and how they can be tapped to help students and their families in the college process.”

While there is no such campuswide PD at the University of New Mexico, departments have created their own initiatives to educate staff, says Koeppel. For example, El Centro de la Raza runs an advocacy program for undocumented students that also focuses on undoing racism.

Emphasize the value of a degree

Colleges that don’t qualify as HSIs have redistributed funds to recruit, retain and graduate Hispanic students. At Manhattan College, a private institution located in the Bronx, outreach to New York City school districts includes working with high school guidance counselors to streamline the application process.

Though only 21 percent of Manhattan College’s population is Hispanic and it does not yet qualify an HSI, it also provides Spanish-speaking financial and admission officers to improve communication with Hispanic families.

Manhattan recruits students from Puerto Rico and South America. When courting prospective Hispanic students, identifying the value of a college education is paramount, says William Bissett, Manhattan’s vice president of enrollment management.

“Hispanic students especially want to know their degree will be marketable. The family typically is making an enormous financial sacrifice to fund their child’s education.”

Once on campus, student success also depends on services beyond the academic. In fall 2014, Manhattan opened a $50 million commons with a multicultural student center that gives residential and commuter students chances to participate in lecture series, dances and gatherings.

The center also works on programming with special interest groups—including the Fuerza Latina, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Commuter Student Association.

Across higher ed, inclusion also extends to Hispanic students’ families. In addition to hiring bilingual and bicultural staff and administrators, colleges and universities now host celebrations outside of the traditional commencement ceremony for graduates’ families.

These events will sometimes include Latino performers, and the typical two-ticket per family rule is often dropped to accommodate all relatives who want to commemorate their student’s success,
says Ceja.

Data Points

  • 415: Number of Hispanic-serving institutions in the U.S.
  • 25: Percentage of an institution’s total enrollment that must be students of Hispanic descent to qualify as an HSI; schools must also meet a core expenditure standard set by the Department of Education
  • Source: Office of Postsecondary Education, Department of Education

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