News Column

Top Universities Strive for 'Critical Mass'

Sept. 3, 2008

Richard Kaplan--Associate Editor, Hispanic Business Magazine

Top Universities Strive for 'Critical Mass'

Even as U.S. Hispanics fight to gain access to academia, universities and colleges are being challenged to reach out to the Hispanic community to achieve their diversity goals. Some of these schools have higher goals than others. To some, achieving diversity is about more than talk, it is about taking action. Some are aggressive, creative, and highly successful in their outreach to Hispanics. Each year, we celebrate these schools and their mission in our September issue. These are among the most progressive and laudable institutions of higher learning in the world.

The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute recently pointed out that professional programs in universities and colleges, such as the ones we have listed in the following pages, "prepare elite leaderships at both the state and nationals levels across a multitude of sectors." The Center's reported added, "If we are to eradicate racial, economic and social disparities in America, it is imperative to have effective participation in our universities."

But, which schools offer the most to Hispanics? Which ones are at the forefront of recruiting, retaining, and offering quality higher education?

To answer these questions, HispanTelligence, the research arm of Hispanic Business Inc., annually assess the nation's top universities for Hispanics in the fields of medicine, engineering, business, and law. From these institutions will come the country's future entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors, and political leaders.

Critical Mass

The best schools for Hispanics -- the ones that nourish young minds and transform them into probing thinkers, innovative entrepreneurs, and successful leaders -- are often in regions where the Hispanic population has a powerful presence.

Of the 40 schools on our four Top 10 lists, 31 are in Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico, New York, and Texas. One quarter of all schools on the lists are part of the University of Texas network.

The size of the Hispanic enrollment was one of the factors in assessing the graduate and professional schools.

As numbers increase, the sheer quantity of Hispanic students can turn into a "critical mass," says Shelli Soto, dean of admissions at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. Along with that critical mass, law schools need professors and programs that address legal issues of concern to U.S. Hispanics, and the third ingredient to that mix should be a powerful and active Hispanic professional community. Once that occurs, the university becomes a very vibrant learning environment, Ms. Soto said.
The College of Law at ASU, which is number two on our list of Top 10 law schools, boasts a large enrollment of Hispanics. Eighty out of 595 law students, or 13 percent, are Hispanic. Those numbers are eclipsed, however, by the 102 budding lawyers at University of New Mexico (UNM), the list's leading school of law, who account for an impressive 29 percent of the school's student body.

By The Numbers

The percentage of Hispanic students in our elite schools lists ranges from two percent at Purdue University's College of Engineering, to 80 percent at University of Texas at El Paso's School of Business.

The University of New Mexico consistently enrolls high numbers of Hispanics, who make up 28 percent of the School of Medicine, 40 percent of the School of Engineering, and 29 percent of the School of Law. The percentage of Hispanic students in the top schools ranges from 10 to 20 percent. The largest number of Hispanic students overall is 211 at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, which is number seven on the list.

According to Georgia Institute of Technology's Hispanic Initiative director, Jorge Breton, sheer numbers can be extremely important in creating what he called a "Hispanic friendly" campus. "Having a significant amount of minority students enrolled in an institution really improves the chances of minority students successfully obtaining a college degree," he said.

He added that the presence of a community of Hispanic undergraduate and graduate students, along with professors, assures students that they belong on that campus, rightfully pursuing a higher education. Georgia ranked No. 1 on the list of Top 10 Engineering Schools for Hispanics.

The Power Of Student Organizations

Each of the schools on this magazine's Top 10 list is notable for its rich array of Hispanic professional student associations. For example, the University of Texas at Austin hosts two active organizations assisting students called the Hispanic Graduate Business Association and Mexican Business Association.

It is these associations, says Prof. Charles Calleros of Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, which catalyze the community of Hispanic scholars. Prof. Calleros, who is actively involved in numerous outreach and mentoring efforts at the school, praised the associations' "vibrancy."

"I could brag about the faculty and staff," he said, "but it's actually the students themselves that make this a good place for Latinos. They have pro bono programs, academic support committees, and recruitment committees. They usually send a team to the National Hispanic Bar Association's moot court."

Schools With A Mission

Looking at the universities on our Top 10 lists reveals two distinct groups. The first are professional schools at state universities that embrace a mission of serving their state populations, the second are elite national universities that see themselves as serving not particular states but the nation or even the world.

Dr. Byron Cryer, associate dean of minority student affairs at the University of Texas at Dallas School of Medicine, which heads the list of medical schools, offered insight into how a state university understands its social mission and how that mission enhances its schools' diversity achievements.

"Probably the largest issue that drives our push for diversity is that we are a state school that represents the interests of Texas," he said. "And we in Texas have a population that is increasingly more diverse, particularly for Hispanics." His school recognizes a critical need to augment the supply of doctors serving that rising population.

Dr. Cryer said having Hispanic doctors treat Hispanic patients increases the likelihood that the patients will seek help in the first place and then understand and act on their prescribed medical treatment. "For about 10 years, we've targeted applicants who have an interest in providing service to medically underserved communities."

The school has found that Hispanic applicants are interested in serving those populations. Many graduates have already established medical practices in those communities. These newly minted doctors, Dr. Cryer said, "have done quite well."

Other schools, typically located in states with large Hispanic populations, also acknowledge a mission to serve local community needs and consequently enhance diversity. "Because we are the only law school in a relatively poor state, there is a sense that (we) have to meet the needs of New Mexico," said Mark Feldman, dean of students services at UNM's Law School.

Elite National Schools

To a certain extent, top-tier national schools, like Stanford University Graduate School of Business, have a contrasting approach to diversity and a different sense of mission. Stanford, which combines rigorous business training with a recognition of the need for diversity, grabbed the No. 2 spot on this year's Top 10 list of Business Schools.

Stanford understands diversity as the need to recognize and work with an expanding array of cultural differences in today's global economy. About one third of the MBA class comes from other countries, including Chile, Mexico, Japan, and European nations, which Communications Director Barbara Buell said gives Stanford an added boost of diversity.

In the MBA program, she said, "you want your entering class to be as diverse a group of people as possible. You want a Los Angeles Hispanic interfacing with someone from Beijing or from the south of France."

According to Ms. Buell, such a diversity of perspectives enriches the problem-solving capacity of organizations and is a fact of life in today's business world. Stanford's sense of mission emphasizes serving not a particular community or state, but corporate America in general.

Despite differences in size, geographical locale, and sense of mission, the schools leading the Hispanic Business Top Ten lists this year not only recognize that importance of diversity, they are action models for making it happen.

For more of Hispanic Business' signature lists, please see the Ranking Channel

Source: (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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