While a commitment to diversity might seem natural for the universities appearing in this year's report on graduate programs in business, engineering, law, and medicine, what really seems to set the top schools apart is the environment they create for their Hispanic students.
As an example, take a look at the engineering program at the University of Texas at El Paso, located on the border between the United States and Mexico – and at the top of our list of engineering schools. Nearly 75 percent of UTEP's students are Hispanic, and almost a third of those are in the engineering program.
The high numbers of Hispanics help make the school a nurturing place, says Alina Nunez, engineering graduate program advisor at UTEP. A UTEP engineering graduate herself, Ms. Nunez told Hispanic Business she never felt discriminated against or that she didn't belong at the school. "There is a lot of support here and a lot of access. You never feel like you are a 'minority' and out of place."
A March 2006 policy brief from the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center reported that Hispanic students "often describe graduate school as a place where they feel invisible – like outsiders or imposters." As a result, according to authors Tara J.Yosso and Daniel G. Solorzano, the students may "doubt their academic abilities, question the value of their scholarly contributions, and reconsider their decision to pursue a graduate degree."
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Top 10 Schools for Hispanics:
Ms. Nunez's positive perception of UTEP illustrates how universities can counter those obstacles.
The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering has called the UTEP program "a model" for engineering institutions and praises its focus on helping low-income students succeed in graduating in a field where only a tiny percentage are Hispanic. Studies show that while Hispanics represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, fewer than 5 percent have engineering degrees, and an even smaller percentage have a master's or doctorate in engineering.
That's a situation that UTEP says it wants to change. "As a Ph.D. student, it is very important to have access to your faculty advisor and I see mine everyday," says student Jorge Villalobos, who is working on a doctorate in civil engineering infrastructure systems. "My peers at larger institutions say they go weeks and even months without seeing their advisors." Mr. Villalobos, who also received his bachelor's from UTEP, adds, "Even as an undergraduate, I had two articles published and I worked in a lab for two years. That's not something you get everywhere."
"The amount of research that students are doing is very high and professors appreciate the work," Ms. Nunez says. To keep costs down, the university has also implemented an undergraduate tuition guarantee plan in which tuition and fees stay the same for four consecutive years. The UTEP engineering program also has begun a joint B.S./M.S. program in which students can earn both degrees in five years.