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Hispanic Students Thrive More in Culture of Community, Says Report

Hispanic students tend to succeed more at institutions where there is a culture of inclusiveness and an explicit commitment from the leadership to serve the community, according to a new report from The American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ (AASCU).

The association conducted a study aimed at understanding why some state-supported four-year colleges and universities retain and graduate Hispanic students at much better rates than their peers.

The “Hispanic Student Success Study” selected 11 public universities for two reasons: their high graduation rates with little or no difference in the rates for Hispanic and non-Hispanic students, or because they experienced an increase in Hispanic students’ graduation rates since 2000. Among the chosen few, George Mason University had the smallest percentage of Hispanics in the student body with 7.6 percent, and the largest was Texas State University at San Marcos with 20.1 percent.

There was not one overriding factor that was responsible for students’ success at the institutions, says John Hammang, director of special projects and development at AASCU.

“There wasn’t any one thing that these schools were doing that could not be replicated at any other public institutions. It was a matter of culture and of leadership,” Hammang told Diverse.

These campuses were intentional in their commitment to Hispanic students’ success, highlighting this commitment in their mission statements, strategic plans, and public communications. More importantly, these institutions are successful with Hispanic students in part because they are dedicated to success for all students. Finally, these campuses are able to succeed in part because they have been able to recruit a “critical mass” of Hispanic students.

“There were enough students to be part of the community… and could impact the community,” adds Hammang.

Leadership was important at these campuses because officials there have been devoted to recruiting Hispanic faculty and staff, as well as in educating non-Hispanic faculty and staff about Hispanic students’ culture, and how to help them succeed. They also have a number of Hispanic staff members who act as informal coaches and role models to provide direct intervention and support. California State University at Northridge is one of the featured campuses in the report where a diverse group of Hispanic students — from affluent, fifth-generation Mexican-Americans to disadvantaged newcomers from Central America — have all been successful. The report attributed a 10 percent jump over five years in the Hispanic graduation rate to the leadership of CSUN President Jolene Koester.

According to the university Web site, Koester’s ongoing message is cited as “motivating faculty and staff to take independent steps that are resulting in higher graduation rates across the board.” 

The study made several recommendations to other campus leaders and officials to emulate Hispanic student success at their schools. Among them is to vigorously build a culture around building student success; listen to Hispanic students to determine their needs and the importance of family and community connections; work to replicate support networks that are typical of Hispanic communities by directing academic affairs and student affairs staff to design programs that promote multiple connections among Hispanic students. “It can’t be a one-time thing. It has to be a series of ongoing commitments,” Hammang says.

–Diverse Online staff

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