Leading Latinos: Hispanic-Serving Leaders Give Hope to a New Wave of Students

Article excerpt

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Recently becoming the nation's largest minority, Hispanics are absorbing the academic limelight as Latino youth establish their dominance in college classrooms across the country.

According to Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education magazine's 2013 report, "Top 100 Schools for Hispanic Students" more than 2.5 million Hispanics were enrolled in nonprofit institutions in 2011-2012. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that nearly seven out of 10 Hispanic high school graduates in 2012 enrolled in college, outnumbering that of their White counterparts. More than half of these new college-goers choose to attend Hispanic-Serving Institutions, which the Higher Education Act defines as nonprofit degree-granting institutions with frill-time undergraduate enrollments of at least 25 percent Hispanic.

While these numbers illustrate a statistical breakthrough in Hispanics' desire to become academically astute and socially progressive, the task of cultivating the necessities required to recruit, retain and promote these aspiring college graduates can largely be attributed to the dedication of those employed at Hispanic-Serving Institutions. Under the advisement of founding President Dr. Shirley Reed,

South Texas College was established 20 years ago as a community college dedicated to serving the needs of Hispanics and has propelled in recent years due to its dual-enrollment program, which has become a local attraction for high school students.

"Our goal was to create a college-going culture in our region," says Reed. "Going to college was just not an opportunity for most of our families, so we believe that by starting students early in high school, that we will plant the seed that everybody can and should go to college."

That seed has grown to serve a 96 percent Hispanic student population, and in 2012, approximately 12,000 Students from 68 high schools were admitted into the dual-enrollment program.

"We are learning from this program that success breeds success," Reed says. "When students are successful in high school taking college classes, they want to take more, and we have large numbers who actually earn a two-year associate degree while in high school."

While more than 51 percent of Hispanic students choose to attend two-year universities like South Texas, Reed's goal is to ensure that her scholars have a plan after South Texas. Incoming students in the program receive strategic counseling and devise degree plans that outline if they will enter the workforce or pursue a bachelor's program after receiving their federally funded associate degrees.

In Orange County, the University of California, Fullerton, is also a proponent of engaging with youth, starting as early as elementary school.

Dawn Valencia, Fullerton's director of university outreach, says that creating substantial programming in the community is one of her department's greatest strengths.

"Instead of us saying, 'Hey this is what you need, we work with the community to see what makes sense," says Valencia. "We are not just located in Orange County; we are a part of Orange County."

Through programming catered to college-preparedness, Valencia meets students with dreams of pursuing degrees, as well as those who believe that attending college is not the most logical step after high school.

"We're in the business of providing hope," says Valencia. "We get the opportunity to inspire students, and we get a chance help them answer questions that they didn't even know they had."

Fullerton's presence in the community has rendered its student population 33 percent Hispanic.

Having benefited from projects like those that she runs at Fullerton, Valencia finds the most enjoyment in her career through building an even greater generation of successful minorities.

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Urbina Marcel shares this sentiment of reciprocity at his alma mater, Florida International University--Miami's first and only public research university, offering bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees to students--61 percent of whom are Hispanic. …

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