Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

In Service: Reaching out to the Growing Population of Hispanic Students May Be the Answer for Some Colleges' Survival

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

In Service: Reaching out to the Growing Population of Hispanic Students May Be the Answer for Some Colleges' Survival

Article excerpt

When Notre Dame de Namur, a 162-year-old Catholic college located in the San Francisco Bay area, began t, he 2007-08 school year, the college faced a crisis of declining enrollment. Notre Dame de Namurs enrollment had peaked at 1,700 in 2003, but four years later, student enrollment plummeted to 1,300--the lowest in recent history.

College officials took steps to address the problem. They adopted a strategic plan that included a comprehensive enrollment campaign. The plan also included a piece deemed important to the survival of the college--becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

HSIs are two- or four-year nonprofit degree granting institutions that have an enrollment of at least 25 percent Hispanic.

Notre Dame de Namur's Hispanic enrollment hovered around 17 percent in 2007. Today, Hispanic enrollment is 29 percent, according to a college spokesman. And that's not all that's grown.

The college's enrollment rose to slightly more than 2,000 in the fall of 2012.

"We have grown about 35 percent in the last five years," says Hernan Bucheli, the college's vice president for external affairs. "We've been growing pretty consistently and, for our scale, pretty significantly. The Hispanic-serving strategy has played a big role in that."

College officials and higher education experts say reaching out to Hispanic students is critical to the future of the college.

"Higher education is changing, and demographics are changing," says Dr. Judith Greig, president of Notre Dame de Namur. "Tne ground is just shifting. I think institutions that don't have some kind of edge or some kind of niche are not going to survive these changes, particularly institutions that aren't wealthy. Those of us who are not sitting with huge endowments will have to figure out another way to make it through."

Notre Dame de Namur has worked aggressively to make the campus environment welcoming to Hispanic students. It has expanded its student success center and tutorial program. Faculty members developed an early warning system to make sure administrators are alerted and can intervene when a student stops coming to class or appears to be struggling academically. At student orientation, the literature is in both English and Spanish, and college officials ensure translators are on hand to interpret for parents if necessary.

According to Bucheli, the college strives to keep the parents of Hispanic students abreast of what's going on. Staff members have created a video in Spanish so parents can be aware of various services, and they send out a newsletter in Spanish and English.

"Some parents may not want their students to go to college because they want them to work," says Bucheli. "So sometimes we do value messaging about the value of a college education and how it's a long-term investment that will eventually pay off."

Higher education experts say Notre Dame de Namur's outreach to Hispanic students is the kind of path many will need to follow if they are to thrive or even survive. Hispanics are the nation's largest minority group and one of the fastest growing. On average, they are also younger than the general population. Experts say colleges that fail to market aggressively to this rapidly growing population may be doing so at their own peril.

"Most colleges and universities in this country will be Hispanic-serving by 2050," says Dr. Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania and a noted scholar on minority-serving institutions. "If you're going to be pragmatic and are thinking about the future, you need to learn how to recruit and retain Latino students. If they're not reaching out to Latinos, they will suffer in terms of enrollment."

Unlike historically Black colleges and tribal colleges, which were founded to serve specific ethnic groups, Hispanic-Serving Institutions are relatively new and did not start out with a mission to educate Latinos. …

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