Part 2: How to Help Hispanic Students Succeed in College—Accessibility
Hispanic students, like all students, face many issues when deciding if higher education is the right path. Affordability, learning ability, location, family concerns—even access to the necessary equipment—all come into play.
As vice president of the Division of Student Success at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), Dr. Minita Ramirez has developed programs to address the concerns of Hispanic students in the border region surrounding Laredo. Drawing from her own experience and doctoral studies, she’s focused on three basic issues that this underserved student population faces when it comes to accessibility to higher education: Most Hispanic students don’t think they can afford college; they don’t believe they can accomplish college-level work; and, as primarily first-generation students, they don’t have family support to overcome the first two issues.
Accessibility for Hispanic Students Starts with Improved Support
Whether it’s money, ability, or support, Ramirez and her team work campus-wide and cross-functionally to help students overcome those barriers to achieving a four-year degree. In fact, Ramirez participated in the development of a first-year success program in which each freshman student meets with a peer-student advisor at least once a week.
“The program’s goal is to motivate students through their freshman year so that if issues arise they wouldn’t wait until final exams to say, ‘You know, I really never understood what I was supposed to do in this class.’ We want to make sure that people don’t get lost,” Ramirez says.
The 16-year TAMIU veteran notes that the Student Success division is extremely collaborative and encompasses recruitment, financial aid, registrar and advising offices. It works closely with the provost, chief financial officer, athletic compliance, and housing management while the registrar’s office also collaborates with faculty, chairs, and deans. From recruitment to graduation, university personnel regularly team up to ensure that students thrive.
Technology Deficits—An Overlooked Obstacle to College Access
In working to increase accessibility to higher education, Ramirez has identified other issues that can affect student decisions.
She uncovered a problem many Hispanic freshmen face: Their families don’t have computers or internet service at home. Realizing this, Ramirez encouraged TAMIU to add more computers on campus—and to make them available until midnight to meet working students’ schedules. The university continues to improve access to technology, and now has ‘Skylab’ on campus—a 7,400 square-foot computer lounge featuring 119 computers, WiFi, access to wireless printers and meeting space.
Ramirez says that these types of programs illustrate TAMIU’s full-fledged commitment to helping first- and second-generation students succeed.
This level of support is having a positive effect on enrollment numbers and graduation rates, Ramirez notes. In addition to student success and counseling programs, she says that the university strives to offer more scholarships and personalized financial aid counseling, as well as manageable payment plans.
Putting Family First Improves Accessibility for Hispanic Students
She adds that, as a result of these efforts, the school “went from being a university of default to a university of choice.” And that choice, she says, isn’t made solely by the students. For many Hispanic students, the decision to attend college is a big family decision. It’s possible, she adds, that choosing school over full-time work may impact the family’s income, or affect other household responsibilities.
“During recruitment, we sit down with mom, dad, and the student—and sitting behind them many times is usually little brother and little sister. Everyone is listening because everyone wants to know what’s happening. Even grandmother might be there. Mom and dad play a huge role in determining where their children are going to study,” Ramirez says.
Embracing this dynamic, the university offers a family recruitment night and a family financial aid night. The Saturday before classes start in the fall, there is an orientation for students who come from outside of Laredo. Ramirez explains that this type of nurturing is something both students and families appreciate.
“I say to them, ‘It’s ok for your child to go to college,’” she says. “You’re not going to lose them. But it will change everyone’s lives.’”
The ‘ABCs of student finance’ helps drive many decisions at TAMIU, where its predominantly Hispanic student body creates unique challenges for Ramirez’ office. Campus leaders know that it’s part of their social mission and obligation to improve accessibility to higher education, reduce student borrowing, and drive down administrative costs. In our next post, Ramirez explains how TAMIU addresses borrowing and other financial aid options.