Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

A Program to Retain Latinos

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

A Program to Retain Latinos

Article excerpt

Located in the heart of the country's third-largest city, the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) is a large public college thai tries to meet the needs of its multicultural student body. It has a history of offering specialized services to Latino students.

In 1975, it launched Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services, or LARES, a separate program to attract Latinos, help them navigate admissions and encourage Hispanic students to graduate. LARES focuses on "recruitment, admissions and retention/' explains Hugo Teruel, its interim director who has been with the program for 20 years.

LARES emerged, not from an initiative by llie administration, but out of protests sparked, by Hie civil rights movement in the U.S.

Community Protests launched LARES

In the early 1970s, students, faculty and community leaders were protesting die lack of programs for minorities at the University of IllinoisChicago. At one point, the protest leaders occupied University Hall and demanded more services for the Latino community, which it said was being ignored. Many of the protestors noted that Latinos were admitted, but many dropped out and there weren't enough services to meet dieir needs. In response, UIC administrators launched LARES, first as part of Latin American studies and soon as an independent program. At the outset, it had one full-time staff member and a minimal budget.

In 1975, it helped about 100 Latino students. By 2012, it advises about 2,700 of the 3,700 Latino undergraduates who attend UIC about scholarships, internships, courses and workshops. In fact, currently it's the largest academic support program on the UIC campus.

In the 2011-12 semester. University of Illinois-Chicago had close to 17,000 undergraduates. Of that student population, 42 percent were White; 22 percent, Latino; 22 percent, Asian-American; 8 percent, AfricanAmerican; and 2 percent, mixed race. LARES has played a crucial role in attracting Latino students, reaching out to the Hispanic community in Chicago and statewide and letting the community know that Latino students are welcome on the UIC campus.

Though many academic support programs have been slashed due to state budget cuts in the last few years, LARES has been spared, said Teruel. The administration recognized that the Latino population has been increasing at the University of Illinois-Chicago and opted to preserve its budget of $630,000 in 2011-12.

Thirty-seven years after ils inception, TARES still aims to help Latino students succeed at UTC. The program has expanded greatly since its inception, due to the rising Latino population, which "has been expanding exponentially," Teruel says. But the first-generation Latino student still requires help navigating the admissions process, handling financial aid and, once admitted, succeeding at a large urban university. LARES offers a variety of services including an advisor, a summer bridge program to help incoming freshmen improve academic skUls and adapt to college life, tutoring and financial aid assistance.

One-on-One Advising Critical to Retention

Standing at the crux of LARES is the academic advisor who serves many roles, including recruitment. LAKES has four full-time academic advisors and one part-Lime advisor, "Our advisors are the recruiters. They go into the school, into el barrio, meet the community and develop rapport with students," Teruel says. By the time many Latino students apply to UTC, they already know the advisors and the large anonymous university has a welcoming face to greet them. Students are assigned an advisor based on their major and can change advisors if there's a better match. Those relationships go a long way to helping Latino students succeed.

The initial role that advisors lili is helping Latino students apply lo UIC and deal with the complex FATSA and other financiai aid forms and requirements. Since advisors recognize that problems with financial aid are the main reason Hispanic students drop out of college, ensuring that students receive die maximum amount of financial assistance is the first step toward helping them gain acceptance and eventually graduating. …

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