Local colleges seeing an uptick in Hispanic enrollment

An increasing number of Hispanics nationally are graduating from high school and enrolling in college.

A September 2017 report from the Pew Research Center (http://pewrsr.ch/2xCwWYi) found the dropout rate among Hispanics has fallen by 24 percentage points since 1999 to 10 percent, compared with 9 points among blacks, 3 points among whites and 2 points among Asians.

And the rates of Hispanic high-school graduates ages 18 to 24 who were applying for and getting into college in 2016 rose to 47 percent — a 12 percentage point jump since 1999.

The changes in college enrollment are partly driven by demographic changes throughout the United States as well as improved academic progress, according to the Pew Research Center. Between 1999 and 2016, the number of Hispanics enrolled in public and private preschools, K-12 schools and colleges increased 80 percent, from 9.9 million to 17.9 million.

College officials in the Rochester area say they are starting to see a slight improvement in the number of Hispanic students on their campuses. State college officials also noted that those numbers may rise next year thanks to New York’s Excelsior Scholarship, which provides free tuition to eligible students. The scholarship program began in the fall of 2017.

“We will be monitoring the program carefully to determine how to best leverage this opportunity on behalf of our students and applicants,” said Donna Rae Sutherland, spokeswoman for Genesee Community College. “With more time in the coming year to guide students through the application process, we may see an uptick, but at this point it (the scholarship program) has not had a dramatic impact on our (Latino student) enrollment.”

GCC, SUNY Brockport, SUNY Geneseo and Rochester Institute of Technology officials did report a general increase in the number of Latino students, thanks to recruitment efforts and increasing outreach online and through social media.

The portion of students indicating they are of Hispanic origin at GCC went from 2 percent in 2011 to 4 percent of 6,219 students in 2016, Sutherland said.

SUNY Brockport received a higher number of applications from Hispanic students this fall compared to a year ago, said spokesman David Mihaylov, with 121 students enrolling.

Also this fall, RIT welcomed its most diverse freshman class in the university’s history, noted Luke Auburn, and its Latino student population has been steadily rising. In the past five years, the number of Latino/Hispanic students enrolled at RIT’s main campus rose from 871 of 16,904 students in 2013 to 1,017 of 16,775 students in 2017, added Auburn, a senior communication specialist.

And SUNY Geneseo recently ramped up its recruitment efforts in the downstate area by creating a full-time recruiting position based in New York City, said spokesman David Irwin.

“With the relatively high number of Latino students in the downstate area, we think visiting more high schools in that area with the Geneseo story may be helping to interest more Latinos in our college and programs we offer. Time will tell,” he said.

While admissions of Hispanic students may be on the rise, financial challenges may be keeping them from completing their bachelor’s degrees, according to another Pew report. As of 2014, 15 percent of Hispanics ages 25 to 29 have at least a bachelor’s degree, as compared to 41 percent of whites, 22 percent of blacks and 63 percent of Asians in the same age group (http://pewrsr.ch/2aHlOha). Hispanics are more likely than others to attend community colleges, which generally have lower tuition rates than four-year schools, the report stated.

Local colleges provide a variety of mentoring and support services to keep students in college through graduation.

Many schools offer the Higher Education Opportunity Program, which provides financial and academic support to a diverse body of students, officials said. RIT offers several scholarship programs, including the Destler/Johnson Rochester Rochester City Scholars, Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and McNair Scholars, Auburn said. RIT also has created leadership programs, such as Men of Color, Honor and Ambition (MOCHA) and Women of Color, Honor and Ambition (WOCHA) to help diverse students become part of th campus and local communities, he said.

The MOCHA and WOCHA programs offer underrepresented students a family away from home, which is a key to keeping them in college, noted Stephanie Paredes, RIT’s manager of multicultural program and a member of the WOCHA Council. The programs provide students who are sophomores to seniors with personal mentors and workshops on careers, as well as matches them with local community leaders to engage them beyond the campus, she added.

Brendalis Camacho of Sacramento, Calif., said she recently joined the WOCHA program and enrolled at RIT thanks to the McNair and LSAMP scholarships for underrepresented populations in science and technology. She is a senior majoring in biomedical sciences.

Being a minority is something she had become accustomed to, as she often was one of a handful of Hispanic students in advanced courses in high school. But she decided to join WOCHA to be surrounded by people who do look like her and have the same goals for success, Camacho said.

“It reminded me I’m not alone, … there are other women like me,” she added. “To surround yourself with those people helps you continue on (your) path.”

Alexis Montoya said the WOCHA program helped her accomplish her goal of a college degree. She graduated last spring and is working at RIT as a social media community manager for its “Behind the Bricks” office. The Bronx native is the first woman in her family to graduate from college, added Montoya.

“WOCHA allowed me to be around women whose experiences I could relate to and learn from,” she said. “My (WOCHA group) had some amazing women who taught me so much and supported me throughout my time at RIT. It was having this support and inspiration that helped me succeed. … (Before WOCHA) I had little insight into how to best navigate this very complex college life. It was crucial for me to connect with other women of color at this predominantly white male institute. Because for a while, it felt like I didn’t belong in this setting. To have WOCHA hand me the tools to succeed and encourage me along the way did so much for my success and growth as a Latina professional.”

Thomas Chew, director of Brockport’s Academic Success Center, said offering an array of support for students is invaluable to their success as well as the college’s. His office provides academic, mentoring and counseling services, and he noted that sometimes the work is as simple as providing guidance on study skills.

“So many people feel an outsiderness or underprepared, and that’s not true,” he said. “There is support everywhere. We can provide you with what you need. … Sometimes, it’s just someone sitting with you.”

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