Latino Outreach Center Sparks Enrollment
Latino Outreach Center Sparks Enrollment
College of DuPage models successful Hispanic student recruitment program
By Susan Borowski
Alarmed by national statistics indicating more than 20 percent of Hispanic students who enroll in two-year colleges don’t complete their studies, the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., took a proactive stance to improve those numbers. Efforts to increase Latino student enrollment on campus have been so successful, the community college reported a six percent enrollment jump in just one year—three times the admissions goal. More than that, these new students are staying on campus and succeeding.
In 2011, the Latino student population at College of DuPage (COD) was 11 percent; in 2012 it reached 17 percent. Nationally, Hispanics are the largest minority group on college campuses. In fact, in 2011, the number of Hispanic students ages 18 to 24 constituted 16.5 percent of all college enrollments, a new high, according to a 2012 Pew Research Hispanic Center report. The number is even higher for two-year colleges, with Hispanics making up one-quarter of students. While record numbers of Latinos are earning associate and bachelor’s degrees, however, they still lag significantly behind whites and blacks in degree completion, according to the report.
The College of DuPage recruitment initiative began about three years ago when the administration was asked to create a committee to review Latino student needs. In response, the President’s Study Committee on Latino Outreach, Access, Retention, Graduation and Transfer was formed. Those early efforts became the catalyst for COD’s Latino Outreach Center.
Saraliz Jimenez coordinates the Latino Outreach Center, created in 2011, and also advises the Latino Ethnic Awareness Association (LEAA), a campus club. Through the Center, sheworks to increase Latino enrollment and retention. The focus is comprehensive, involving recruitment, retention, and public relations, she says.
The numbers for Hispanic student enrollment on campus “were fine,” Jimenez says. “It was more a matter of figuring out how to retain the Latinos we had. The college wanted a larger Latino population on campus but also had to figure out how to keep them here.” Recruitment is typically handled through the admissions office, Jimenez adds, “but it’s really everyone’s role; if you’re looking at a good enrollment management model, it’s everyone’s responsibility, faculty and staff, to recruit students.”
The Center pursues a variety of partnerships to help draw students to campus, such as co-hosting Paying for College (a seminar offered in Spanish), a scholarship workshop for Latino high school students, and an ACT math prep program. The Center also maintains a presence at student and parent information nights, college fairs, and the African-American and Latino Parent Summit, an event that typically attracts 500 people.
In addition, Latino Student Visit Day brings more than 300 high school students to campus, Jimenez says. The event often features a local Latino motivational speaker, such as Robert Renteria, author of From the Barrio to the Board Room. This year’s guest was author and presenter Andres Lara, a.k.a. The Cuban Guy.
No matter what their profession, the speakers all have a story to tell, “usually going from poverty to building a successful life in whatever form that takes,” says Jimenez. “It’s a success every year. We also talk to students about admission, financial aid, and give them a tour of the college.”
Ximena Carrasco, a freshman leaning toward travel and tourism as her future occupation, participates in LEAA. She attended Latino Student Visit Day and heard Lara talk about how he came to the U.S. at age 16. She recalls Lara’s saying at first he didn’t know any English, and was homeless for a time, but he became a millionaire at age 26. “He talked about what he did to achieve his success. He motivated students to follow their dreams,” Carrasco says.
Jose Macias, also a freshman, intends to major in math and double minor in education and dance. He hopes to be an urban math teacher with a second career as a choreographer.
When Macias started school, he wasn’t planning to get involved with any clubs. However, he was persuaded to join LEAA. “It’s been such a great influence in my life,” he says. “I’ve done some fundraising and taken on a leadership role and I’ve achieved things I didn’t think I would. It made a new person out of me.”
Macias is the public affairs representative for LEAA. His main task is to recruit Hispanics and others who want to join the group. The goal of LEAA is to show that “Latinos are here, we’re proud, and we can achieve,” says Macias.
Although the outreach programs are successful, Jimenez keeps in mind that personal attention helps make Latino students feel welcome, too. “College of DuPage is a mini-city of 28,000 students, and the size can be overwhelming,” she says. “In addition, freshmen are overwhelmed with information. I make sure they understand what they need to do. Despite our size, we’re about relationships.”
All incoming Latino students are informed of the assistance the Latino Outreach Center can provide. Jimenez offers to meet with students for two hours before the start of their first semester to make sure they have everything in order. During those meetings, she runs down a checklist to determine, among other things, whether students have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), how much they plan to work outside jobs while in school, whether they’ve set up a student account, and whether they need accommodations.
“I break it down for them and we deal with a few things at a time,” says Jimenez. “That’s an important strategy, especially for students whose parents have not gone to college and have no experience with the process. For example, many parents aren’t aware that there is a tuition payment plan option until I call it to their attention.” The same information is sent in the mail, Jimenez says, but it can be confusing, especially for those for whom English is a second language.
This summer, the college unveils something new: a tuition-free class for those attending COD in the fall. The class, which earns students two credit hours, teaches note-taking strategies, listening skills, time management skills, test-taking preparation, and how to deal with test anxiety.
Along with personal attention, facilities and programs help keep students enrolled, Jimenez says. “Students are very impressed with the facilities. Even though they’re local, they’ve never been in the buildings and aren’t that familiar with the campus. We have the only Homeland Security Education Center in the Midwest. A lot of our Hispanic students want to go into police, firefighter, and security fields, and they are very impressed with this facility.”
Also of interest, she says, is the Culinary and Hospitality Center, which features the Waterleaf fine-dining restaurant, as well as the student-run Wheat Café, where students get hands-on experience in all aspects of the restaurant industry. The Center also offers a six-room boutique hotel, the Inn at Water’s Edge, where students pursuing careers in the hospitality industry explore every aspect of running a hotel.
One of COD’s most popular programs is the 3 + 1 degree program. “It’s a big draw for our Latino students because they can save so much money working toward their bachelor’s degree,” says Jimenez.
Through the program, students complete three years of courses at the regular tuition rate. In the fourth year, they take courses from a partner, four-year college at a reduced tuition rate. The college faculty teaches classes on the COD campus. “The college is continually adding programs and relationships with other schools so that more students can take advantage of the program,” says Jimenez.
College of DuPage welcomes undocumented students. Some people raise eyebrows at the link on the Latino Outreach Center website boldly highlighting information specific to undocumented students, Jimenez says, but it’s business as usual for COD: “We have always allowed undocumented students. We’ve never required a social security number.”
While the cost of a community college education brings some Latino students into the College of DuPage, there is good reason to stay and graduate, says Jose Macias, whose goals are to get into Phi Beta Kappa, the national honor society, and win a full scholarship to the University of Illinois. “With all the programs and networking,” he says, “it’s an amazing school. I would recommend it to anyone.”●
Susan Borowski is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. Published in our June 2013 issue.