By Kris Axtman writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
Texas Southern University's auditorium is filled with high school students giggling and gossiping and trying to pay attention to the college recruiters on stage.
Sylvia Gaitan, interested in a career in education, is one of the more serious of the bunch, and she listens intently. In her search of area colleges, the Houston senior says she never considered the historically black university an option before today.
"But everybody seems really nice, and they say they have lots of money for students like us," she says. "Yeah, I think I am interested."
"Students like us," in this case, are Hispanics.
Not long ago, Sylvia would have been one of a just a handful of Hispanics on TSU's campus. But that number is growing markedly, reflecting a national push by historically black colleges and universities to actively recruit Hispanics and other minorities.
Between 1990 and 2000, for instance, Hispanic enrollment at African-American institutions increased 64 percent nationwide - and recruitment efforts have only intensified. TSU is a good example: Last year, there were 420 Hispanics on campus, but the number has jumped nearly 19 percent this year, to 500.
"It's common knowledge that Hispanics will soon be the biggest segment of Houston as well as the whole state of Texas, and, as educators, it is only wise for us to tap into that market," says Hasan Jamil, the school's assistant vice president of enrollment services.
Higher education, like countless other industries, is seizing the potential of the country's fastest-growing population to boost its bottom line and diversify its ranks. Universities of every kind are reaching into these communities in an effort to tap into the additional federal funding that comes with higher minority enrollment.
But nowhere are the numbers more dramatic than at black colleges, whose age-old mission has been to open educational access to minority students.
"Unlike traditional white institutions, which sometimes struggle with how to increase diversity, HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities] are starting out with diversity," says Arnold Kee, director of programs at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. "So they don't have to try as hard to convince students of color that they have an academic atmosphere that's meant for them."
Luciano Santillan, for one, was easily convinced. He grew up in the predominantly black neighborhood surrounding TSU, attended a predominantly black high school, and didn't want to move away from home - plus, he says, he was offered a great scholarship.
It "felt kinda weird" to be one of only a few Hispanics on campus when he started four years ago, recalls the senior majoring in chemistry, but "now you see a lot more."
As Hispanic representation has grown, student organizations have sprung up as well. Mr. Santillan was a founding member of TSU's chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta - the largest Latino fraternity in the US.
Chapters of the League of United Latin American Citizens and Latinas on the Rise are two other recent additions to the university's social scene. And last week, the school hosted its first Hispanic heritage day, dubbed El Dia Del Tigre. …