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Building a Friendly Environment for Hispanic Students

In 1963, Bob Dylan wrote and sang about how “The Times They Are A-changing.” The lyrics referred to the events of the 1960s that resulted in major change. Today, those same lyrics can be applied to major changes occurring in the demographics of our country — especially the “changing” student population in higher education.

With more Hispanic students entering higher education institutions, colleges are taking deliberate and strategic action to ensure their academic success. One community college, Morton College (Cicero, Ill.), has been highly successful in improving the academic success of its Hispanic students. Morton College is Illinois’ top producer — and 91st nationally among two-year institutions — of degrees granted to Hispanics in all disciplines, according to a June 16, 2008, report by Community College Week. The 2008 report states that Morton College issued 213 associate degrees to Hispanics during the 2006-07 academic year — a 63 percent increase since the Week’s 2003 report. Clearly, Morton College’s efforts to recruit and retain Hispanic students have been successful.

Morton College, considered the most Hispanic- friendly school in the Midwest, serves a student population of approximately 5,050, of whom 78 percent are Hispanic. The college offers a wide range of programs and has exceptional facilities, including a state-ofthe- art library, science laboratories, technology- friendly classrooms and Student Success Center. Morton has received both local and national recognition for innovative student service programs, publications and outreach to students —specifically outreach initiatives involving Hispanic students and other potential students. Following are some of Morton’s innovative, most effective approaches.

Midnights at Morton. This is an 8 a.m. to midnight registration marathon that includes not only all aspects of the student registration process in one location, but campus tours, open bookstore, music, entertainment and food donated by local restaurants and food stores for students and their families. This welcoming approach relieves what is too often a long, tedious, confusing and intimidating process — especially for the students who are the first in their family to attend college, which is often the case for Hispanic students.

Administrators, staff and faculty who organize and direct the event wear welcome badges that include their name and the languages they speak. All required paperwork, including financial aid forms, are available in Spanish as well as English, which is key to setting a welcoming tone. Again, the emphasis is on providing a registration process that facilitates student success with the promotion of college programs and support systems.

Aspects of Midnights at Morton that are critical in this regard include:

• Personalized advising that starts by providing students with remote electronic alert devices, like “restaurant buzzers,” allowing students to move throughout the college while waiting to meet with an advisor.

• Opportunities to meet with faculty in the student’s area of study.

• Opportunities to speak with current students who serve as mentors for information on classes and programs.

• Easy, immediate access to an academic dean, faculty and the vice president of Student Success for overload approval of closed courses.

Midnights at Morton not only ease the registration process. They provide a welcome to new students and their families while setting the stage for retention, including the start of faculty and student relationships that are so critical to student success.

Targeted Media Marketing. Media marketing and advertisements are sent well in advance of deadlines to Spanish/bilingual print, radio and television media outlets. Further, Morton invites local media to college events, providing the media a first-hand view of the college and access for interviews of administrators, faculty, staff and, most important, the students that constitute their target audience.

Electronic Outreach. The college Web site is designed to be student-friendly and includes Spanish translation of the site, but Morton College’s use of electronic outreach goes beyond its site. Facebook, MySpace, Internet sites, blogs and LCD monitors throughout the campus facilities are used extensively to promote college events. Further, mass emails and an automated calling system are used to recruit and follow up with students on a variety of issues, such as registration status, as well as to promote college events.

Board, Administration, Faculty and Staff Focus. Most important to the success of outreach efforts and retention is the focus and support of all members of the Morton College team on student learning. This commitment is evident from the moment students arrive at the college and see beautiful, wellmaintained facilities, meet friendly faculty, staff and students and observe the bilingual signage that makes it clear that all students are welcome and supported.

The key to Morton College’s student outreach and retention is focusing all efforts on student learning and creating a welcoming environment that meets every student’s unique needs for achieving individual academic goals.

— Dr. Leslie Navarro is interim president of Morton College and Dr. Evelyn Waiwaiole is director of National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD). The forum is sponsored in partnership with NISOD at the University of Texas at Austin.

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