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Creating an Army of Latino College-goers

I recently attended a football game and was struck by the assertive approaches by military recruiters to engage the males in attendance. It reminded me of several focus groups we held with Latino students across the country and their comments that the military was more aggressive in recruiting them than any college. Given the national need to increase the college completion of Latinos, contemplating the military’s recruitment strategies and their potential adaptation for college recruiting could be of value.


The military’s recruitment strategies impressed Latino students in our focus groups. Among its efforts were giving away sportswear and tickets to sporting events and recruitment at local and school gatherings. Students said recruiters were persistent in calling them and their friends. They only stopped calling if the student referred other students the recruiters could talk to. Recruiters also conducted home visits to talk to parents about career opportunities and the benefits of enlisting. Further, recruiters offered financial incentives for a multiyear commitment and noted students could earn money to pay for college. Recruiters also highlighted the pride of serving family, community and country by joining the military.


I know plenty about the military because I am a military brat. My father joined the U.S. Air Force at age 17 and served for 26 years. My brother and a brother-in-law are in the military and, while they are no longer enlisted, my sister and other brother-in-law also served. All of them have college educations. Through the military, my father earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. My brother attended a military academy and has a bachelor’s and a master’s as well.


I know the military provides one pathway to college for Latino students, especially males. However, given the less attractive aspects of serving in the military (rarely shared by recruiters), it is not the best option for all students. Why is the military seen as the most viable college pathway for so many Latino students? One reason is because the military has taken the time and effort to recruit us in more effective ways than colleges have (other than the highest-ranked academic students and athletes). What would our participation and success rates be in college today if colleges recruited Latino students as assertively as the military recruits Latinos?


I am not suggesting colleges have the same motivations to recruit students as the military but there are strategies colleges could adapt to increase Latino enrollment. For example, conducting continual outreach in Latino communities sends the important messages that college is a possibility and Latino students are wanted there. Recruiting at local and school gatherings for college should be the norm for all students, not just an activity held once a school year for those who self-identify as college-going. Further, doing home visits and talking to parents about the opportunities and expectations of college for their children is a powerful college-recruitment tool. Finally, emphasizing the importance of a college education as a way to better serve family, community and country resonates with the aspirations of many Latino students. 


Deborah A. Santiago, vice president for policy and research, Excelencia in Education

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