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HBCUs Reach Out

HBCUs Reach Out

To Latino Students  Schools cite similar needs and goals

By Ronald Roach

It had not occurred to Lorena Sajardo to consider Texas Southern University as a possible college until her high school soccer coach suggested during her senior year that she try out for the newly forming women’s soccer team at the Houston-based historically Black university. Despite having grown up in Houston, Sajardo admits to knowing almost nothing about TSU at the time. But she decided to give it a try after the

university offered her a soccer scholarship.

“At first, it was hard because there wasn’t much cultural outreach and support, but it’s gotten a lot better … I don’t have any complaints,” says Sajardo, a junior accounting major who is now on an academic scholarship.

Freshman Arlene Delgado arrived on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University with some idea of what to expect. Her older brother and a sister-in-law were both graduates of the private historically Black school in Austin, Texas. Delgado, the youngest of seven children in a Mexican American family from Brownsville, Texas, says she’s finding the comfort and acceptance she had hoped for.

“I wanted to attend a school with small classes where I could get a lot of attention and get to know my professors,” says Delgado, who expects to major in international business like her brother. 

Sajardo and Delgado are among a growing cohort of Hispanic students enrolling at historically Black colleges and universities. The trend has become most apparent at historically Black colleges and universities in Texas, North Carolina and Ohio, where officials have taken proactive steps to recruit and enroll Hispanic students. 

“We’re in Texas, where there’s a large Hispanic population. The needs of Hispanic communities are very similar to African-Americans,” says Dr. Larry Earvin, the president of Huston-Tillotson.

At Huston-Tillotson, Hispanic students, most of whom are Mexican Americans, account for 10 percent of the undergraduate student body population, according to school officials. That figure gives Huston-Tillotson one of the highest percentages of Hispanic student enrollment among HBCUs.

“[Hispanics are] one of the fastest growing groups in the country,” says academic admissions expert Dr. Robert Massa, the vice president of enrollment at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

While the bulk of Black college recruiting appears to be drawing upon populations of Mexican American and Central American descended students to southern and midwestern campuses, experts believe HBCUs are also positioned well to attract Afro Latino students, such as Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Black  Cubans, who generally reside in the northeastern United States. 

Overall, Hispanics are expected to grow from 13 percent, roughly 35 million, of the U.S. population to 18 percent, or 59 million, by 2025. African-Americans, who also comprise 13 percent of the population, are projected to grow to nearly 15 percent in that same period, according to U.S. Census population estimates. Today, one-third of those entering the work force are Hispanic. In 2025, that number will jump to one-half.
Institutions that are successfully attracting and enrolling Hispanics must demonstrate they are open to diversity, says Massa. “It’s not a question solely of critical mass … [There] has to be an institution-wide commitment.”  
By and large, HBCU officials say they welcome the challenge of recruiting, enrolling and retaining Hispanic students. In contrast to majority White institutions, which often struggle with diversity, HBCU officials and advocates tout a long history of having diversity in their student and faculty populations. They also contend that enrolling first-generation college-going Hispanic students represents part of their traditional mission of educating the socially disadvantaged. That focus, however, has been complicated by the fact that Hispanics struggle with a higher than average public school dropout rate and attend college at lower percentages than Blacks and Whites.

“[HBCUs have] always been open to diversity,” says Lynn Huntley, the president of the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation. “They have the most diverse faculties of any group of colleges and universities.”

Statistics demonstrate that HBCUs have been relatively open to Hispanic students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Hispanic enrollment from 1976 to 2001 almost doubled — from 3,442 to 6,665 — at Black colleges. At specific campuses, recent growth figures reveal a more aggressive posture with regard to Hispanic students. Last year’s enrollment of 498 Hispanic students at TSU represented a 19 percent jump from the 2003 fall enrollment totals. TSU had a total enrollment of 11,635 students in the 2004-2005 academic year, according to Hasan Jamil, the assistant vice president for enrollment services at the university. 

In North Carolina, growing and supporting Hispanic college enrollment is a task shared by a host of institutions and agencies, including historically Black colleges and universities. Among the 16 public colleges in the state, historically Black Fayetteville State University had the highest percentage of Hispanic students, 4 percent, during the 2003-2004 academic year. Last year’s figures pegged Hispanic enrollment at 4.1 percent at FSU, which employs a recruiter who targets the Latino community. Ohio’s Central State University has made diversity recruiting, which is heavily targeted at Hispanic students,  a full-time position.

Huston-Tillotson’s Earvin believes that HBCUs are well-positioned to appeal to Hispanic students and their families given that their

socioeconomic profiles are similar to the families Black schools have traditionally served. He adds that alumni, students, faculty, administrators and other supporters of Huston-Tillotson have approved of the school’s growing ties to the Hispanic community and its enrollment of Latino students. “It hasn’t generated a lot of concern,” Earvin says.
After moving to the Bellville, Texas, area near historically Black Prairie View A&M University from New Jersey in the 1980s, Amparo Isaza-Navarrete, a native of Colombia, recognized that there was a need for local schools to reach out to the parents of Mexican American children. As a volunteer, she proved an able and enthusiastic teacher of English as a Second Language to Mexican American adults. As a result, local school officials encouraged her to pursue a master’s degree so that she could continue with the school system as a full-time teacher and eventually as an administrator.

Opting to take a different route than full-time teaching, Isaza-Navarrete completed a master’s degree in educational counseling at Prairie View. Since the early 1990s, she has held jobs at Prairie View involving university outreach to the Hispanic community. As recruitment program coordinator in the college of arts and sciences, her current responsibilities include teaching Spanish to Prairie View faculty and administrators and developing K-12 programs that help stimulate Hispanic student interest in college.

“When I came here there were not that many Latino students. That was okay. You have to strike out and be a pioneer,” Isaza-Navarrete says.  “I saw the need for the communities to be aware of one another … I became a bridge.”

A number of HBCU officials say their schools are embracing change as they increase ties to the Hispanic community and facilitate cultural changes on their respective campuses. Colleges are participating in local organizations, Hispanic events and coordinating K-12 initiatives to include Hispanic children. 

“We’re part of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,” in the Austin area, says Earvin.

For their part, Hispanic students at HBCUs are putting a cultural stamp of their own on their respective campuses. With Hispanic representation growing, student organizations reflecting their interests have sprouted. Edwin Cuc, a senior computer science major at TSU, was a founding member of the university’s chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta, the largest Latino fraternity in the United States. Like TSU’s Sajardo, Cuc, who is of Guatemalan descent, is involved with the Hispanic Student Association and a campus chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens. These organizations and a Hispanic sorority have all sprung up since Cuc and Sajardo have been students at TSU. 

“There was real excitement about there being a Latino fraternity bringing something different to the campus,” Cuc says. “And all the groups are hosting social events that include everyone.”
To the extent that HBCUs develop and pursue a “diversity” agenda in the wake of the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed the use of race-conscious affirmative action in higher education, Black college leaders say cultivating and growing Hispanic enrollment represents a critical part of that mandate. Some officials, however, have been cautious about a diversity movement they feel might compromise the mission of historically Black institutions.

Dr. Ray Winbush, the director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University, says the mandates of public desegregation orders and the economic and educational interests of White civic and business leaders have put the historical missions of HBCUs at risk in the current diversity era. He says the danger comes from those who would turn majority Black HBCUs into majority White institutions.

“I’m very welcoming of Hispanics coming to Black colleges. This is a good movement,” he says.

The effort, Winbush says, represents one of the most positive aspects of Black-Latino relations in the United States. While there’s been a tendency in the news media to highlight conflicts between Blacks and Hispanics, Winbush says the long-term benefits of Hispanics educated in historically Black institutions will serve to help make for a positive relationship.

“The movement will strengthen ties between the communities. It allows us to get to know one another better,” he says.

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