Other schools set model for Latino outreach

MU will aim to overcome a minority-unfriendly stigma.
Thursday, December 11, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:33 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Changes have been slow in coming to MU compared with other universities in the Midwest, but a new generation of university officials is realizing that MU needs to step up its efforts of diversifying its minority recruitment, and they now are taking measures to do that.

Severe budget cuts have hampered efforts in recent years, but there’s another factor that runs deeper. MU administrators say they are working to overcome a stigma that MU has long held for many minority students and educators. Handy Williamson, vice provost for minority affairs and faculty development, said one of the impediments that MU faces in its recruitment efforts is a reputation among minorities that MU is not minority-friendly.

“In the past, there has been a perception that MU is not very inviting for minority students,” said Ann Korschgen, vice provost for enrollment management. “It is due to an unfortunate history when it was not a goal to be diverse. Of course that is no longer true, but the perception continues. We are trying to dispel that by ensuring that our efforts are inclusive.”

But perhaps the most significant barrier is the small population of college-eligible Latinos in the state. Korschgen said MU is doing what it can on campus, but that increased partnerships with public schools is needed to get more minority students into the pipeline for higher education. Only 626 Hispanic students took the ACT last year, she said, and only 235 scored the minimum 22 for admission to the university. MU enrolled 76 of those students as freshmen.

A new administration is moving forward with a variety of initiatives and putting more resources into the old ones. Williamson, who has been at MU two years, said he’s noticed a difference already. “There’s more of a tendency to act on social justice,” he said. “It’s time to act and to do things right and do them well.”

Williamson attributed much of the forward movement to the Hispanic and Latin American Faculty and Staff Association, which has spearheaded Cambio de Colores (Change of Colors), a series of conferences around the state to engage political, academic and community leaders in the challenge of integrating Missouri’s burgeoning immigrant population.

“There’s a new freshness to their approach, partly because of the role HLAFSA has played in policy dialogue, in workshops focusing on the needs of people in general and not just their own need on campus,” Williamson said.

Now MU is trying to learn from the best practices of other institutions, Korschgen said.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for example, has increased its Latino student body by about 43 percent over the past 10 years to five times that of MU.

Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield has begun a major drive to recruit Latinos and has doubled its Latino graduate student population in the past five years. The school is partnering with community groups such as Grupo.

Latino Americano and the League of United Latin American Citizens in Kansas City, said Charlotte Hardin, director of minority student services at SMSU. The school is starting a Hispanic studies program and has begun giving bilingual tours to students and their parents.

“If a service is needed,” Hardin said, “then we will provide it.”

The University of Kansas has seen a 53 percent increase in the Latino portion of the student body over the past decade, from 484 to 742.

KU offers its students the Center of Latin American Studies, recognized as one of 13 national resource centers, which allows for more community outreach to both Latinos in the area and community members from the region, said Elizabeth Kuznesof, director of the center.

Through a Fulbright grant, the administration sent a group of elementary school teachers to Costa Rica for five weeks last summer to examine childhood development. The teachers were from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado.

“(They) toured the schools there and set up e-mail pals in that country, so that kids could see what children their ages are doing in Costa Rica,” Kuznesof said. “It is important that students have awareness of the world and the importance of Latin America.”

Next year, the university plans to sponsor a faculty trip to Argentina.

KU also does community outreach, such as giving Spanish lessons in elementary schools, displaying exhibits on Hispanic culture in the anthropology museum and recruiting students through phone calls made by volunteers from the Hispanic American Leadership Organization on campus. The school does all of this to “valorize the culture and language and to make Hispanics see that KU is an inviting campus,” Kuznesof said.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign distinguished itself with a top 100 listing in Hispanic Outlook on Higher Education. That campus increased its enrollment from 1,470 Hispanic students, constituting 4.1 percent of the student body, to 2,108 students, or 5.4 percent, during the past decade.

UIUC is proactively recruiting students of color through mailings, multicultural scholars nights, peer recruitment programs and “U of I Day” at Chicago-area high schools, among other activities, said Stanley Henderson, associate provost for enrollment management. Retention and family involvement are two major focuses for Latino students.

“Retention goes hand-in-hand with recruitment. If you haven’t spent time on retention, you could create a revolving-door syndrome: lots of students coming in but leaving before they graduate,” Henderson said. “Latino students often have family pressure not to go to college, especially Latina students, or if so, not to go too far away. Urbana-Champaign is a long way from Chicago in many families’ eyes. Therefore, we need to bring entire families to campus to get comfortable.”

UIUC also offers a Latin American studies program to promote diversity in the curriculum for all students.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln celebrated the 30th anniversary of its Ethnic Studies Program in 2001. Included areas of study are African and African-American Studies, Native American Studies and Latino and Latin American Studies.

In fact, between the fall of 2002 and 2003, the Latino population at Nebraska increased by 60 students, from 480 to 540, surpassing the black population, which only rose from 505 to 515.

MU is also beginning to make strides in this area. One of the major blossoming ideas is for a Latino studies center on campus.

“There are a number of centers on campus and now people are looking at adding one more,” Williamson said. “It is highly appropriate to have a Latino studies center given the relationship between this country, Mexico and the rest of Latin America because of economic and cultural ties. There has also been increased migration in this region and this center could be a strengthening mechanism for that relationship in the area.”

Another impediment to recruitment and retention of Latinos is the small number of Latino faculty — just 29 campuswide, or fewer than 2 percent of the total. Williamson said there are many reasons why the Hispanic faculty number is small at MU.

“There is a low percentage of the population who have completed the necessary degrees and there aren’t a lot of Hispanic individuals available to teach on a college level,” Williamson said. “Also, the distribution of the existing teacher’s pool is low in this area in comparison to the national level. The most concentrated areas are obviously California, Florida, Texas and other states like that, and Missouri is just now getting a larger number of Latinos.”

However, the university is making “concerted efforts” to attract more minority faculty through a variety of programs. Four years ago, the multicultural scholars program was created. In this program, people who have completed a doctoral degree spend eight weeks at MU over the summer and teach a class.

“It gives them a chance to interact with the faculty and the community so that they see if this could be somewhere that they could work and live,” Williamson said.

Besides the universitywide recruitment programs, different departments have been venturing out on their own to create a better environment for Latinos. The College of Engineering has an initiative that has brought many Latinos, particularly Puerto Ricans, to campus. The Colleges of Education and Veterinary Medicine, and schools of Journalism and Health Related Professions also have initiatives aimed at attracting Hispanics. The School of Nursing has a program to increase the number of Hispanic nurses in the state.

Looking to the future, MU recruiters are planning to target the youth in heavily populated Hispanic areas throughout the state.

“We do need to go where the people are,” Williamson said, noting that Missouri communities such as Sedalia and Marshall have large numbers of Latinos.

Korschgen said that approach is key for the future of MU.

“We need to do more to get minority students academically prepared for college work,” she said. Collaborating with all students between kindergarten and 12th grade is a “significant issue that we have to face up to in the community.”

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