MU’s lagging Latino recruitment

Missouri’s burgeoning Hispanic population is not reflected in the group’s enrollment at MU
Tuesday, December 9, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:24 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Pablo Mendoza, MU’s director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, dropped three large boxes and a black MU banner on a handcart. Student volunteer Jesse Berrios took the initiative and began carting the boxes out onto the street. The sound of a mariachi band on the street below resonated in the parking garage as Mendoza and Berrios walked into the bustle of Kansas City’s 12th Street for the annual Fiesta Hispana.

The recruiting had begun.

Fiesta Hispana, which was Sept. 13-14, is a yearly celebration of Hispanic heritage in Kansas City, which currently has the highest concentration of Hispanics in Missouri. Several other colleges at the fiesta persuaded passers-by to pick up information both in English and Spanish. Southwest Missouri State University boasted a Hispanic population rivaling MU’s, although the Springfield campus has almost 10,000 fewer students overall. The University of Missouri-Kansas City offered pamphlets in Spanish about its School of Nursing and information on Hispanic-specific scholarships.

MU, on the other hand, had nothing Hispanic-specific to brag about, save some information on AHANA, a minority journalism program for high school students. MU explored the idea of publishing recruiting materials in Spanish, but the idea stopped short because of budget cuts.

As the Hispanic population of Missouri doubled in the past decade, the Latino population at MU barely increased, from 1.1 percent of the student body in fall of 1992 to 1.5 percent in fall of 2002, with 259 and 390 students, respectively.

Meanwhile, MU’s African-American student population is growing more rapidly. In fall of 1992, 870 African-Americans were enrolled, or 3.7 percent of the student body. A decade later, the black population at MU numbered 1,351, which was 5.2 percent; white students accounted for 85 percent of the total student population.

It might have something to do with the way MU representatives recruit.

“We need a Hispanic recruiter to recruit more Hispanics. We need materials written in Spanish,” said Mendoza, who is Filipino and does not speak Spanish. “We need concentrated recruitment efforts if we would like our population to increase.”

Whereas schools such as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have minority-specific advisers and recruiters, MU employs Mendoza to assist in recruiting all types of minorities.

The reasons for this discrepancy go far beyond recruiting, however. They go to the heart of the issues facing Latinos in America today:

  • The high school dropout rate for Hispanics is more than three times higher than the national rate, according to a study done by Hispanic Outlook magazine. Almost a third of school-age Hispanics drop out of high school before graduation, and only slightly more than 10 percent go on to attend college and get a bachelor’s degree. More than a quarter of the nation’s Hispanics have less than a ninth-grade education.
  • Because of its central setting, Missouri is seeing its first large influx of Hispanic Americans. Latinos also tend to be more reluctant to travel far from home and family to attend a university than other ethnic groups, according to some sociological studies, because family is traditionally a higher priority than among other groups.
  • The bulk of Missouri’s Latino population is first- or second-generation. This means that issues such as the language barrier still need to be crossed, whereas in many Western states, the more established fourth- or fifth-generation Hispanics do not face the same challenges.
  • While African-Americans have seen a gradual increase in political influence at the state level — thanks in part to the Black Caucus, a state lobbying arm of the national association — Hispanics have not yet developed such a presence. Having a political organization central to the black community from which to solicit feedback has helped MU in recruitment and enrollment efforts, said Ann Korschgen, vice provost for enrollment management.
  • There is a general perception on the part of minority students that MU is not particularly “minority-friendly” — a perception that university administrators are working to reverse, but it will take time. This perception goes back for years to the times when blacks were forbidden entry into the university.
  • n There are just 29 Hispanic faculty, not quite 2 percent of the total. That compares to 26 in 1993. The number of Hispanic faculty on campus hit its highest point in 1999 with 34 but diminished slowly to its current level.

  • The university’s mandate is to serve the population of the state, and because the African-American population of Missouri is still much larger than the Latino population, it makes sense for recruitment efforts to target them more heavily. Korschgen noted that the Latino population in Missouri is at 2.1 percent, compared to African Americans at 11.2 percent.

    The United Ambassadors, the minority student recruitment group, tries a variety of approaches to recruitment such as phone calling, e-mail, postcards, students’ panels and Clue-N-2-Mizzou, an overnight program where students stay with a host student to get a taste of the MU experience.

  • Kemyell Rieves, UA co-chairwoman, stresses that UA is comprised of Latino and African-American students, but about 99 percent of the membership is African-American.

    One of the cited reasons that more African-American students choose the school is that they see more people like them actively recruiting, Rieves says.

    Establishing a critical mass of Latino students would greatly help in the effort to recruit Hispanic students to the school, Rieves said.

    “I think that time is going to be the ultimate solution,” Rieves said. “When African-Americans first started attending college, it was one or two on a campus at a time. And over time the numbers grew. Statistically, Latinos are increasingly enrolling in higher education institutions, which means that in years to come, it can be expected that their numbers will also increase to a larger mass.”

    Eric Wilson, theater professor and former retention coordinator at Academic Retention Services, agrees that as time goes on, a larger critical mass of Hispanic students can develop at MU.

    “A larger critical mass is a positive and could help recruitment,” he said. “However, if the critical mass doesn’t have a positive experience, then it doesn’t do any good. All students regardless of ethnic background have specific needs, and if they are not truly addressed, any support received becomes a cookie-cutter approach to solving the problems. What is good for student A will not necessarily work for student B.”

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