The Puente Project: Socializing and Mentoring Latino Community College Students

By Laden, Berta Vigil | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

The Puente Project: Socializing and Mentoring Latino Community College Students


Laden, Berta Vigil, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Introduction

Latinos are now the most rapidly growing ethnic group in the country and are expected to be the largest minority group by the year 2010 (Carnevale, 1999). Nearly 28 million Latinos live in the U.S. and currently represent 1 in every 10 persons (1 in 4 in the state of California) (U.S. Census Bureau, 1997). Yet, their educational and economic gaps are of concern due to lower than average salary levels and significantly lower high school and college completion rates than any other ethnic group. Based on the significant role of education in determining occupation and earnings, Carnevale (1999) comments, "Postsecondary education has become our real school-to-work system and our worker training and retraining system. We do not have and are unlikely to build an alternative postsecondary educational track for non-college students. Thus, the lion's share of the work force preparation and retraining will continue to done by educators, most effectively in collaboration with employers" (p. 70). For Latinos, who already represent a large segment of low-skilled, low-paying service workers, this bodes great economic difficulties for those involved as well as problems for the general society.

The need to increase the Latino high school graduation, college enrollment, and completion rates is clearly fundamental to the economic prosperity of Latinos. In 1996, just over half (5%) of all Latinos ages 18 to 24 graduated from high school, reflecting an increase only slightly higher than that twenty years earlier (Wilds & Wilson, 1998). Of these high school graduates, only slightly more than one-third (35%) chose to go to college, with almost 60% of them selecting community colleges as their point of entry. Latinos earned only 7% of all associate degrees, 5% of all bachelor's degrees, 4% of all professional degrees, and 3% of all master's degrees awarded in the U.S. in 1995 (Wilds & Wilson, 1998).

The low participation and completion rates for Latinos have led to a number of K-16 educational pipeline efforts. Mentoring has emerged as a strong programmatic solution to the retention of academically at risk populations in college, including Latinos.

For some time now, colleges and universities have recognized the need to address the problems of retention, particularly during the critical freshman year. Efforts (especially targeted are nontraditional college students who often enter college academically underprepared) have led to a variety of mentoring programs (Canton & James, 1995). This article highlights the Puente Project, a California community college academic program that successfully recruits and retains Latino students in college, assists them to excel academically, and effectively prepares them to transfer to four-year institutions to complete the baccalaureate degree. Among the many factors that make the Puente Project unique is its focus on welcoming all students, but primarily Latinos, into college. The program affirms who they are as valuable cultural assets thus providing a foundation and a framework for collegiate learning experiences. There are three components to the Puente Project: (1) English composition (2) counseling, and (3) mentoring. This study examines the mentoring component of the Puente Project and how it intersects with the other two components.

In this article, I present a brief review of the research literature on mentoring and the role of organizational socialization. Next, I present highlights of the Puente Project as an exemplary model that addresses the needs of Latino college students from a cultural context. Finally, I discuss a few of its successes and conclude with some implications for research, policy, and practice in higher education.

Methodology

Qualitative methods were used to collect and analyze data about mentoring and the Puente Project. Semi-structured interviews with administrators, faculty, mentors, and students associated with the Puente Project were audio taped and verbatim transcripts produced.

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