Colleges in Massachusetts increase Latino student enrollment - here’s how

Wheelock College in Massachusetts has greatly increased its enrollment of Latino students.

Wheelock College in Massachusetts has greatly increased its enrollment of Latino students. (Courtesy of Wheelock College)

How does a college increase its Latino student enrollment by about 10 percent in six years? Wheelock College, in Boston, Massachusetts, has shown much success in increasing Latino student numbers. Wheelock Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Adrian Haugabrook says their approach is based on common sense - as well as a sense that it is the right thing to do.

"What people need to understand and embrace is that some states such as ours are seeing a decline in the college-age population, but the fastest-growing demographic group is Latino students," says the educator.

Hispanic students, however, might be the first in their family to go to college, or have little or no access to high-quality college planning and advising, according to Haugabrook. So Wheelock College goes to area schools to find future students, and more importantly, to help make young Latinos college bound students.

"We have a program in an elementary school, for example, where our college students mentor fourth and fifth grade boys on the importance of going to college and the steps needed to get there," Haugabrook explains. Studies show many minority children fall behind during the "middle school slide" and then are not prepared for high school, thus limiting their chances to be prepared for college.

Wheelock also has created partnerships with local middle schools and high schools. The Eagle Wheelock Leadership Academy, for example, teaches teens about the importance of civic engagement and leadership - and the teens’ mentors are minority college students themselves.

Another Massachusetts college highlighted for doubling its Latino enrollment is Amherst College. The prestigious institution has used its ample funds to do what Admissions Director Tom Parker says is the most important thing: bringing low-income students, many of them Latino, to the campus.

"If you are a Mexican-American student from El Paso who has never left Texas, the only way you will know what it is like to go away for college is by coming here and spending a few days," says Parker. The admissions director says these students get to meet other Latino students at Amherst, thus familiarizing themselves with a totally new environment. The college also hosts any community-based organization from around the country who wants to bring a group of potential students to visit the campus.

"The last three classes at Amherst have been 42 percent American students of color, including Latinos, and 10 percent non-US citizens," Parker says. "We are just trying to reflect what the U.S. looks like."

And it has not just been private schools like Amherst or Wheelock. Community colleges such as the Lawrence, Massachusetts campus of Northern Essex Community College increased its Latino students to almost a third of its student population.

A report by the Latina-led group Excelencia in Education found Massachusetts ranks in the top fifteen states for enrolling Latinos in college. According to the report, the number of Hispanics who earned an undergraduate degree in the state increased about 15 percent from 2006 to 2008, while other races and ethnic groups increased by 5 percent.

Excelencia in EducationVice President Deborah Santiago says the success of colleges such as Wheelock and Amherst shows it is all about the effort that is made.  ”These colleges don’t expect Latino students to show up at their doorstep,” she says. “The numbers have increased because of intentionality of these institution’s efforts.”

Colleges such as Wheelock and Amherst recognize the investment in enrolling Latino students is beneficial from many different fronts.

"From a business planning perspective, it makes sense for colleges to target the market which is most available," Wheelock’s Haugabrook says. He adds, however, "we can’t look at it completely from a dollars and cents perspective. In our case, it helps raise all boats in our city. We need to do it because it is the right thing to do."

SANDRA LILLEY, NBC LATINO STAFF   

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