Are We Ready for the Influx of Latino Students?

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2010 there was a 24-percent increase in Latino enrollment in college. The sharp increase took place in one year and greatly helped the U.S. reach a historic high in terms of college enrollment—something the Obama Administration as well as several major foundations (including Lumina and Gates) have been pushing with vigor.

Latinos, ranging from 18 to 24 years old, make up 1.8 million of the 12.2 million college-aged students in the country. These young people are helping the nation to meet its education goals and at a rapid pace.

Over half of Latino students are enrolled at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI’s). But what about the rest of these new students? Most are at Predominantly White Institutions (PWI’s). Are these PWI’s ready for the influx of Latino students? My guess is no.

Many of the PWI’s boasting new growth in their Latino student populations have been fairly homogenous in terms of their racial make-up in the past. How are they making change to accommodate students with different backgrounds, experiences, and needs? Will retention programs have to be altered? What about campus programming? And how about the faculty? Does the faculty reflect the changing student body? Will there be same-race role models for Latino students? Research tells us that having role models with similar cultural backgrounds is vital to student success. Latinos make up less that 5 percent of faculty nationwide. Will we begin encouraging more Latino students to pursue Ph.D.’s and enter the college teaching profession?

Many HSI’s are making great strides with Latino students, boasting success in terms of degree attainment and advancing students to graduate and professional schools. PWI’s should look to HSI’s for models in terms of working with Latino students and their families to achieve success in college. Institutions such as National Hispanic University, the University of Texas at Brownsville, and El Paso Community College have proven records in retaining and graduating Latino students, especially those from low-income, first-generation families. We need to capture the success at these institutions and replicate it. Many of their strategies, including engaging the entire family of the student, would help empower all students.

Given our nation’s commitment to increasing the percentage of college graduates in great numbers, institutions of higher education need engage experts on Latino student success and get ready to accommodate the needs of these students.

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