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Higher education institutional planning for Latinx college student success

by Valerie Crespín-Trujillo | Nov 15, 2017

Valerie Crespín-Trujillo is a ​doctoral ​candidate in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also works as a ​project ​assistant to UW-Madison’s ​vice ​chancellor for ​finance and ​administration.

Valerie Crespín-TrujilloRapid growth in the number of Latinx people in the United States has resulted in an increased proportion of Latinx students in our nation’s educational system. Despite the various barriers faced by some Latinx students within this system, cumulatively we are experiencing positive gains in the number of Latinx students entering and persisting in grades K-12 and into college.

The purpose of this blog post is to briefly feature some achievements in educational outcomes for Latinx students and to highlight the strategic planning of a few Wisconsin colleges in relation to this population. By discussing the work of these schools, I intend to demonstrate how leaders of these institutions understand the unique backgrounds of their Latinx students and how they are responding to their needs by developing approaches to serve the Latinx community.

Data and information for this blog come from my own doctoral research about the perspectives of institutional leaders on serving students in two-year colleges with both established and emerging Latinx populations and from what I learned ​at the recent WISCAPE event, Supporting Latinx Students at UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University.

The number of people in the United States identifying as Latinx has increased by 50 million over the past 50 years. In 2016, Latinx people made up nearly 18 percent of the country’s population, and we are predicted to reach 24 percent of the total population by 2065. While it does not come as a surprise that most Latinx people live in areas of the country that are closely connected to communities with Hispanic and Latino origins​ -- such as the American Southwest, Florida, New York, and Illinois​ -- there are some surprising trends in the rate of the Latinx population growth outside of these regions. For example, since the year 2000, Georgia’s Latinx population has more than doubled, and North Dakota is home to some of the fastest-growing counties for Latinx residents. Here in Wisconsin, we have not experienced a similar rate of growth; however, Latinx people are the second largest and fastest growing minority racial and ethnic population in the state, having increased nearly 47 percent since the 2000 census.

Data on student achievement provides evidence of the strengthening of the P-20 educational pipeline for Latinx students in the United States. Currently, 27 percent of U.S. public school students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 identify as Latinx, and enrollment of students from this racial and ethnic background is projected to continue growing. This statistic implies that the proportion of younger Latinx Americans ​entering postsecondary education or the workforce will be at or ​above this rate in the future. And we are already beginning to see support of this trend: ​Between the year 2000 and the year 2015, the high school drop-out rate for Latinx youth has declined from 28 percent to 9 percent, which means that a greater percentage of these students are either earning a high school diploma or an equivalency credential such as a GED certificate and have the potential to become college students.

Research suggests that getting a higher education is important for many Latinx families and students
. The literature about college aspirations demonstrates that Latinx parents place a high value on a college degree for their children. These parents hold strong beliefs that a college degree is essential to be economically successful in the United States. Likewise, over 50 percent of Latinx high school seniors ​expect they will to attend a four-year college; however, they are statistically more likely to enroll in community colleges than four-year institutions. Empirical evidence helps us understand that in some ways aspirations are translating into results: In 2016, three million Latinx students were enrolled in colleges and universities across the country, more than double the number of Latinx students enrolled a decade ago.

In Wisconsin, two universities, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) and Marquette University, have announced initiatives to obtain the federal designation of Hispanic-serving Institution (HSI) for the purpose of expanding services and support to the growing number of Latinx students
. In order to meet the requirements to be designated as an HSI, a qualifying college or university must enroll at least 25 percent Latinx, full-time, undergraduate students as a percentage of their total undergraduate population. Both UWM and Marquette have some room for growth before they reach this goal; the percentage of Hispanic/Latino students at UWM is around 10 percent and at Marquette University the percentage is close to 11 percent. Although the Latinx student population of Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), a two-year comprehensive technical college and Wisconsin’s largest majority-minority institution of higher education is nearly 18 percent, the college has not made any public announcements that it will seek a federal HSI designation.

Even without HSI designations, Wisconsin’s colleges are engaging in higher education institutional planning for Latinx college student success.
Institutional leaders have developed or are in the process of creating academic offerings and student services based on their understanding of how they can best serve their unique student populations. For example, MATC offers some academic programs partially or completely in Spanish, a strategy intended to reduce the language barrier to obtaining a college degree for both resident and foreign-born Latinx students that have varying levels of English language proficiency. UWM established the Roberto Hernández Center to serve undergraduate Latino students as well as students from all backgrounds through advising, cultural programming and making community connections, incorporating cultural competency on their campus through student services. Marquette University connects the service of Latinx students to the heart of the university’s mission as a Catholic, Jesuit institution: to serve society at large by committing to educate everyone including first-generation college students and immigrants. By connecting their work to the mission of their university, administration, staff, and faculty are likely to be more engaged and connected to school’s goal of becoming an HSI.

The growth of the Latinx population in the United States and the increased number of these students in our country’s educational system necessitates strategic planning by institutional leaders and policymakers to ensure the P-20 educational pipeline is strong for everyone, but provides targeted supports for traditionally underrepresented students who may have unique cultural and academic needs. Efforts on many levels are resulting in positive educational gains for Latinx students, and broadening these strategies will hopefully result in continued achievements. Leaders at Wisconsin’s postsecondary institutions have made public their commitment to serve more Latinx students and are using research and assessment to provide resources that improve college student experiences.

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