Friday, June 3, 2011

Improving Latino College Graduation Rates

By Pamela Hernandez

I proudly sit on stage in the University of Maryland’s Latino Graduation Celebration hearing one of my students receive the senior award recognition. He transformed from this inquisitive student to an advocate for the Latino community. In this same celebration there were also parents and extended family members who also play an integral role in their educational achievement. While Latino parents may not possess that college knowledge expressed in the literature, they do provide that moral and spiritual support that students are craving from their parents. Aside from parental support, there are a combination of factors that made this and other students succeed in college, such as student support offices and programs, peer mentoring and campus involvement.

One of the many programs that students should be aware of are Federal TRIO programs such as Student Support Services and the Ronald E. McNair Post baccalaureate Program. These programs provide services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as low-income or first-generation college students, many times a free service. As a product of both of these services in my undergraduate career, I can attest to their effectiveness in expanding my knowledge of pursuing a graduate degree. These programs provided individual, specialized advising, academic support and a cohort-like support that are needed in college. The McNair program, for instance, provides that social support but also that intellectual community of students that want to pursue higher degrees.

Mentoring groups may also be of great resource to Latino college students that did not do a college bridge program or are transfer students from a local community college. Many of our Latino students are taking the college gateway courses in community college, but face difficulties connecting to college because they do not come in with a certain first-year class or know where to find campus resources. A mentoring program will provide the student with their own personal tour of college resources, the insight into departments, majors, professors and courses, and that peer relationship that will help that student to integrate into more student social circles.

Now that the student has a good sense of the academic landscape, the next step is to get involved on campus. A student’s on and or off campus involvement also define the college experience and it is where students get exposed to administrators, faculty and staff that are able to provide a recommendation for future opportunities. Latino organizations may be a starting point for Latino students. These organizations also provide social support, mentoring and leadership opportunities; but they also have a culture of their own, which may not relate to all Latino students. Thus, it is essential for Latino students to be involved in something. These involvement areas could be leadership development, community service-learning, judicial affairs, student advisory boards, student government, resident hall advisors and so many more. Students should be proactive by seeking out assistance even if they think they do not need it or it does not apply to them.

Other habits that I encourage many of the students I advice is to maintain consistent communication with academic, financial, and career advisors. Higher education institutions are like a large system of water, thus requires that students learn how to navigate the waters of information, the ports of resources and the skills needed to get to their destinations.

Pamela Hernandez is the Coordinator for Latino/a Student Involvement and Advocacy at the University of Maryland, College Park. Pamela has experience in K-12 and higher education systems having worked in private and public higher education institutions and local school. She is a doctoral student in the Higher Education Administration program in the UMCP, received her Master of Science in Educational Leadership from the University of Oregon, and her Bachelor of Arts from Knox College. Pamela’s seven years of experience in college student development ranges from advising multicultural and multi-ethnic students and organizations, event programming, leadership development, and learning outcomes assessments. Her research focus is on Latinas in higher education and their strategies to successfully navigate college or university. Other research interests are P-16 educational policies, leadership development theories and practices, organizational theory, and feminist epistemologies.

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