Welcome to Race on Campus. Before the pandemic, Hispanic-student enrollment was increasing for about two decades. Now, the number of Hispanic students enrolled at colleges has fallen by 7 percent. But there are ways to stop this change. One expert told our Sarah Brown that more colleges need to work with students’ families. In some cases, that means speaking Spanish. Read more strategies below.

If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, write to me: fernanda@chronicle.com.

5 Strategies to Consider

The pandemic has dealt a significant blow to undergraduate enrollment, which is down across the board, among nearly all demographic groups. But the downward trend among Hispanic students is particularly troubling.

Hispanic enrollment was increasing for two decades prior to the pandemic. Over the past two years, however, the number of Hispanic students going to college has fallen by 7 percent. That’s bad news for a population that has the lowest college-degree attainment of any demographic group. And it’s bad news for colleges, because in most states, the only college-going population that’s growing is Hispanic students.

How can colleges win back Hispanic students who have stopped out? I interviewed more than a dozen administrators and students across the country for a recent story about Hispanic-enrollment trends. They had a lot to say that didn’t make it into the piece. Here are five key solutions that came out of those conversations:

1. Remove administrative barriers.

When registration for the spring of 2022 opened at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, Terri Gomez was watching the enrollment numbers closely. At Cal Poly Pomona, half of its 25,000 students are Hispanic.

Three-quarters of the students who weren’t enrolling were from the cohorts who’d started college in fall of 2019, fall of 2020, and fall of 2021 — in other words, the students who’d had their education disrupted by the pandemic and been forced to take mostly online classes, said Gomez, associate provost for student success, equity, and innovation. Nearly 60 percent were Hispanic.

Students often don’t respond to emails or phone calls, but Cal Poly Pomona used its chatbot, called Billy Chat, to text students and ask what was going on. Nearly 20 percent of the students thought they’d enrolled for the spring semester even though they hadn’t. It turned out there were hundreds of students with courses sitting in their online shopping cart who just hadn’t clicked the “register” button. Other students were eligible to enroll but hadn’t yet done so for various reasons.

Cal Poly Pomona opened a second registration period for those students. More than 600 of them enrolled.

About 1,800 students had registration holds due to past-due balances. So Gomez advocated for the university to temporarily lift the holds. She told her colleagues: “We are going to lose these students.” After the holds were lifted, 700 of the students enrolled for spring.

2. Engage with students’ families.

For many Hispanic students, college is a family decision. And in some cases, their parents don’t speak English.

Cal Poly Pomona staff members work closely with parents in the Pomona Unified School District, where 80 percent of students are Hispanic, and provide resources and workshops for prospective students and parents, including sessions in Spanish, through Project Caminos. Hispanic parents tend to be more debt averse, Gomez said, so the university is focused on increasing their financial literacy and making sure they know about scholarships and grants that are available.

3. Restore the on-campus experience.

Many Hispanic students choose to attend college close to home, and may even live at home. But several administrators stressed how important campus life was to their students — even at institutions where most students commute. “It has mattered more than I think I expected,” said Renay Scott, acting provost at New Mexico State University, where half of students are Hispanic and more than 80 percent live off campus. Students said they were yearning to interact with peers and participate in social events after many months of isolation.

So even as the university has had to make budget cuts due to enrollment declines, NMSU has continued investing in student-life programming, Scott said. She hopes that once in-person learning has fully returned, many of the students who’ve stopped out will come back.

At Lewis-Clark State College, in Idaho, Hispanic enrollment has continued to grow over the past two years. Andrew Hanson, senior vice president and vice president for student affairs, believes that offering in-person learning throughout much of the pandemic has been attractive to many students.

The college also hosts a federally funded program for the children of migrant workers — the College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP — which supports those students, the vast majority of whom are Hispanic, during their first year on campus. The program aims to increase students’ sense of belonging by connecting them with peers from similar backgrounds, and offers extra academic help and mentoring, as well as support for students still learning English.

4. Retain online options.

For students like Lourdes Arellano, though, taking classes online at Doña Ana Community College, in southern New Mexico, is better than driving all the way to campus. Arellano, 36, has two young children and runs a small day care out of her home.

When her classes suddenly went remote in spring of 2020, Arellano struggled with staying on top of due dates and course schedules. But now that she’s gotten used to online learning, “it’s really easy for me,” she said. If she still had to take in-person classes, she’d have to drive 30 to 35 minutes one way. Now she can structure her academic work around her other responsibilities.

Early in the pandemic, Arellano’s children needed her computer for virtual learning, so the college gave her an iPad for her classes. Arellano plans to continue on to a four-year university and become a math teacher, and she’s liked doing her math assignments on the iPad, submitting her problem-solving work to her professor for feedback.

5. Connect college to career.

The Hispanic population is more likely than other groups, according to Pew Research Center, to believe that colleges have a lot of responsibility to make sure workers have the skills to succeed in today’s economy.

Central New Mexico Community College, where more than half of students are Hispanic, has created a new department called Workforce and Community Success, said Nireata Seals, vice president of enrollment management and student success. The office helps connect students to local field placements and employment opportunities.

The two-year institution has also adjusted its course schedules to accommodate students who are working part time or full time. Students can start taking classes at 60 different points throughout the year. “If we want to meet students where they are, that’s what we need to do,” Seals said.

—Sarah Brown

Read Up

  • At Paul Quinn College, new students with at least a 3.0 grade-point average and who qualify for federal financial aid can bring two family members or friends to enroll with them to earn a certificate or degree. (KSAT.com)
  • Eileen Gu, an Olympic skier, was born in San Francisco but competed in this winter’s games for China. For many Chinese Americans, this duality is similar to their own experiences as immigrants or children of immigrants. (The New York Times)
  • Kimberly Morris found her father’s segregated schoolhouse, the Old Dawn School, in Virginia’s Caroline County. Last year, the school was chosen by a privately funded organization to preserve historic places, after she nominated it. (The Washington Post)

—Fernanda