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A Spectacular Surge

A Spectacular Surge
As Florida’s Hispanic student population continues to grow, Hispanic professors wonder why their numbers aren’t keeping up.
By Blair S. Walker


The enrollment of Hispanic students at Florida colleges and universities has ballooned spectacularly in recent years, prompting many Hispanic professors to question why their numbers aren’t growing at a corresponding pace.

Hispanic professors and administrators at Sunshine State institutions don’t agree why hiring hasn’t kept pace with the increase among the Hispanic student body, nor are they on the same page about how to address the situation.

Hispanic student attendance has increased at least 300 percent in the past 15 years at the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, the University of South Florida and Florida Atlantic University, according to the state’s board of governors. Overall, Hispanic college attendance jumped 174 percent at Florida’s public universities from 1990 to 2005.

“What’s often missing is the will to give people a chance,” says Juan F. Perea, who became the University of Florida’s first Hispanic law professor in 1990. “I don’t think there’s any magic to it. Institutions do have to be pushed sometimes.”

The U.S. Census Bureau put Florida’s Hispanic population at 3.4 million in 2005, putting Hispanics’ percent of the population at 19.6 percent. Correspondingly, full-time freshmen enrollment at all Florida colleges increased 53 percent between 1996 and 2001, according the Pew Hispanic Center, the greatest surge in Hispanic students experienced by any state.

These statistics prompt Perea, part of a loose coalition of Hispanic professors around the state monitoring the situation, to question why only 3.8 percent of the full-time faculty at Florida’s flagship institution, the University of Florida, is Hispanic, considering Hispanics make up 10.8 percent of the student body. This is despite having hired 60 full-time Hispanic professors from 2000 to 2005, bringing the total to 167.

Adrian Jones, UF’s assistant dean for diversity and community relations, says Hispanics, along with Black and American Indian faculty, are sorely under-represented on the campus.

“We at Florida are trying to attack from a number of different levels. We have a diverse group of faculty who are on our faculty search committee,” he says. “We’re very sensitive to making sure that qualified candidates at least have an opportunity to interview. There are legal restraints that prevent us from using race as a primary factory for hiring.”

The president of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, Dr. Loui Olivas, says he’s hard pressed to name a single college or university that excels in aggressively recruiting Hispanic faculty members.

“I have yet to view a strategic vision by any institution of higher education that addresses proportional representation of
its faculty in a way that mirrors its community,” he says.

Several Florida universities are ranked in Diverse’s 2006 Top 100 undergraduate and graduate degree producers special reports, including UF, UCF, Florida State University and the University of Miami. (see Diverse, June 1).

As increasing numbers of Hispanic students arrive on campus, they are rarely being met by Hispanic professors, but the trend isn’t unique to Florida. Nationwide, the percentage of Hispanic faculty members at degree-granting institutions rose from 3 percent in 1995 to 4 percent in 2003, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.

Hispanic students, who had comprised 8 percent of all college students in 1995, had jumped to 12 percent by 2003, according to the Department of Education.

But while the rise is a national phenomenon, Florida’s Hispanic professors are particularly concerned because of the dramatic increase of students in their state.

Says Dr. Marisel Elias-Miranda, a Cuban-born educational psychology professor at Nova Southeastern University: “I think there should be more Hispanic faculty. I think there are very qualified Hispanic candidates.”

Elias-Miranda also says the onus is on Hispanics to ensure that even more prospective professors are available to teach. “I believe that if you pursue your goals and go for what your dreams are and don’t give up, there’s hope,” she says. “I think that sometimes, as Hispanics, we’re not persistent.”

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