Building Bridges for Latino Students

During the past 30 years, the number of Latinos earning college degrees has failed to keep pace with the increase in the Latino population or the number of college graduates from other racial/ethnic groups, a leading researcher on educational equity told ACC faculty and staff at a daylong symposium examining the challenges for reaching the growing student segment.

“We are in worse shape today than we were in 1975, and that gap is getting wider,” says Patricia Gándara. Gándara was among the nationally recognized educators, authors, and students who shared their insights and expertise at the event, “Latino Perspectives: Characteristics of Today’s Latino Students and Strategies for Academic Success.” Gándara co-authored the book “The Latino Education Crisis: The Consequences of Failed Social Policies” and is a professor of education in the University of California system.

Latino youth make up Central Texas’ largest student population segment. Between 2005 and 2011 the number of Hispanic students at ACC increased 59 percent, representing 27 percent of credit enrollment today. However, transfer rates for Hispanic first-time-in-college students is lower than the transfer rates for all other student groups.

Panelists agreed that a culture that emphasizes responsibility to family over education was central to the challenges Latino students face, along with language barriers impacting Latino parents and poverty levels exacerbated by the recent housing crisis and recession.

They also concurred that the first step to addressing those issues is fostering personal relationships with Latino students and their parents.

“Technology is a wonderful tool, but it’s not a replacement for relationships,” says Frances Contreras, co-author of “The Latino Education Crisis” with Gándara and author of “Achieving Equity for Latino Students: Expanding the Pathway to Higher Education through Public Policy.” They noted that college instructors often wear the additional hats of adviser and mentor to Latino students and their families.

Gandára and Contreras also called for expanding the ranks of Latino teachers. “(Latino teachers) can make inroads with the family that are just very difficult for others to do,” Gándara says.

Dr. Richard Armenta, ACC associate vice president for student success, says the symposium offered a valuable starting point from which the college can develop programs and services.

“The Latino symposium provided evidence-based data and information on what we can do to help our students,” he says. “Most challenging was the charge from the speakers to build individual relationships with students as an effective way to help them succeed. The symposium has launched us forward.”

More than 160 ACC faculty, staff, and guests attended the event, which included question-and-answer sessions and small group discussions. Guillermo Martinez, ACC institutional studies coordinator, presented data from the SENSE (Survey of Entering Student Engagement) and CCSSE (Community College Survey of Student Engagement) surveys.

“Latino Perspectives” was co-sponsored by the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, the Cross Campus Program Advisory Committee, and ACC’s Institutional Effectiveness and Accountability, Student Recruitment, and Student Success offices.

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