Since its establishment 15 years ago, Excelencia in Education has studied how colleges and universities across the country are intentionally serving and supporting Latinx students.
Now, rather than looking at the need to increase enrollment and retention among Latinx students, the focus has shifted to how schools can best support them during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The American dream is only possible and the greatness of our country is only possible to be maintained if we accelerate and enhance and increase the educational attainment of this particular population,” said Dr. William Serrata, president of El Paso Community College.
Excelencia held a private forum with institutions to discuss their challenges and needs. Some of the main concerns shared by institutions were whether their students were safe and had access to the resources they needed in order to continue their education. Additionally, schools were also looking at ways to provide mental health support online.
To further discuss the overall impact of the coronavirus, Excelencia in Education hosted a webinar Wednesday with institutional leaders. Topics of equity and technology, virtual graduation and unemployment rates as well as concerns regarding fall semester enrollment were at the forefront of the conversation. Panelists included the president of Florida International University (FIU) Dr. Mark B. Rosenberg, the president of California State University at Channel Islands (CSUCI) Dr. Erika D. Beck and Serrata.
Serrata said higher education will become particularly important during this time due to a“side effect” of the pandemic, which is unemployment.
“We are doing our best to hold all of our people, and enrollment will be key to that,” he said. “Enrollment is a means to an end for students who see it as the surest pathway to the middle class.”
Like most institutions, FIU had limited time to move its courses online. However, Rosenberg said he is “pleased” about the minimal negative feedback he’s received about the changes.
“That’s testament to the willingness of our faculty to understand how critical it was to get the transition and [provide] flexibility to our students,” he said.
One of the main issues facing colleges during this time is technology, whether that means student-access to devices and bandwidth or lacking a place to do remote work.
At CI, for example, the school worked to become responsive with students and provide them with access to technology, ensuring that they have laptops and internet access.
“Our faculty have been absolutely extraordinary,” said Beck. “We are here to serve our students and to ensure that no matter what, we don’t exacerbate the equity gaps. It really is our north star and our mission of who we intend to serve.”
CSUCI has also created virtual campus tours, plus orientation and advising sessions, for students to participate in. Prior to the pandemic, therapy dogs were given to student veterans. Now, the school offers virtual walks.
“I’m so proud,” said Beck. “Our students are sticking with it, they are working through all of these challenges that have been thrown their way. We’ve been watching the data very closely and they are sticking with their classes despite enormous challenges.”
Rosenberg said that there are also academic challenges students face, so FIU is now offering students a pass/fail or no grade option.
“I think this pandemic reveals the grittiness and the resilience of our students,” he added.
Alongside campus support, schools are also offering financial assistance.
For example, FIU launched an emergency fundraiser called FIUstrong. According to the university, 2,030 students have requested emergency assistance as of April 22 and there are between 50 to 100 new requests a day. Rosenberg said the institution has raised over $2 million.
To help the local community, FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management also launched an emergency relief fund for restaurants, and over $1 million has gone toward helping part-time and full-time staff receive financial aid during this time. Many of the staff are current students or alumni.
“Fundamentally, we are all in this together and we are going to get through it together,” said Sarita Brown, co-founder and president of Excelencia.
Sarah Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.