Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Motivating Under-Performing Minority Students to Attend College

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Motivating Under-Performing Minority Students to Attend College

Article excerpt

Elsa Nunez, the president of Eastern Connecticut State University, based in Willimantic, Conn., recognized that many talented minority high school students in nearby Hartford and Manchester had fallen off the college track. To encourage them to attend Eastern Connecticut State, she established the Dual College Initiative in 2008.

Its goal is to overcome the negative influences that fester in many poor, urban neighborhoods that discourage and prevent talented Latinos and minorities from attending college. Its key elements include: a partnership with a community college so students can start college and succeed; living in dorms on Eastern's campus to participate in student activities and change their environment; and a work/study program to help students pay bills and finance their education. So far of the program's 51 participants, 23, or 45 percent are on track to graduate in six years.

These students didn't have the grades or skills to be accepted into an academically demanding state college, says Nunez, a native of Puerto Rico, who has been president for 10 years. Many of these students are bright but are held back by troubled parents, financial issues, and demoralizing neighbor- hoods. Nunez has written a book about the program, Hanging Out and Hanging On: From the Projects to the Campus.

"Everyone goes after the A students, but no wants a student with a C or D," Nunez asserts. But many under-performing students have the potential to succeed and are just waiting to be discovered.

Eastern Connecticut "looks for students who are not being well served by their high school. We remove them from the environment, bring them onto a college campus and rapidly give them the skills they may need to become successful undergraduates," explains Rick Hornung, coordinator of STEP (Summer Transition at Eastern Program) who runs Dual College Initiative.

Though Willimantic is only about 25 miles from Hartford, the environment is rural. "Many of these students have never seen a cow," Hornung notes.

The goal of this project is to diversify its student body. Eastern Connecticut State has nearly 4,400 undergraduates including 22 percent minority students. Of that number, 9 percent are Latino, 7 percent African-American, 2 percent Asian-American and 2.6 percent bi-racial. Nunez would like to see the minority numbers jump to 25 percent.

It costs about $250,000 to fund the program. Approximately half of that money stems from grants and half from Eastern's budget.

About 12 students are accepted into the program annually. The first year they don't pay anything but after that they are responsible for funding their college education. Despite earning grants, they often have a gap of about $2000 a year which they try to close by earning the money through a summer job or taking out loans.

The fact that the program consists of a dozen students contributes to its success, Hornung says. It enables Eastern Connecticut to pay attention to each student, support them and provide sufficient resources. "The cohorts are small enough so we can work with individuals," he says.

Nunez visited two Hartford public high schools and met with guidance counselors, who were surprised that a college president would spend time with them. Together they outlined a program dedicated to motivating minority students to attend college.

The guidance counselors identify students with high potential who weren't in the top 25 percent of students but are on track to graduate. …

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