Programs that partner with schools and businesses to reach out to Latino families can help build the economic, social, and cultural capital that it takes to succeed in college, says Nunez. "The numbers of Latinos are going to be increasing so much that [this issue] is going to be harder and harder to ignore," she says.
High School Outreach
Some individual colleges and universities also have developed innovative programs to reach out to the Latino community. In the late 1990s, students from the Sweetwater Union High School District in San Diego County--about 75 percent of whom are Latino--were not completing high school in large enough numbers, and few were going to college. To guide and motivate students, San Diego State University started the Compact for Success program that guarantees university admission to students in the district who meet set benchmarks. "If we were going to change the tide, we needed education reform in a big way," says Louis Murillo, the program's director.
Now in its 12th year working with students in grades 7-12, the program entails enlisting both university faculty members and district teachers to make the college expectations clear and pump up the academic rigor of students' coursetaking. To earn university admission, students have to maintain a 3.0 GPA through their senior year, complete course requirements, take the ACT or SAT, and pass the college's math- and English-placement tests. Students are given a laminated sheet that spells out by grade level what they need to do to be on track. Once on campus, the Compact students receive extra tutoring and advising to increase retention.
The number of students from Sweetwater passing the proficiency exams for San Diego State has increased 600 percent from 2000 to 2010, and enrollment has grown from 308 students to 650--an improvement of 111 percent.
"We took a district with a high dropout rate in high school and a low college-going rate, and we've turned the whole thing around," says Murillo.
Without role models or family members who have gone to college, the Sweetwater students learn the ins and outs of campus life from the Compact advisers, who are current college students.
Marcela Meave is a graduate of the Compact program, a former adviser, and now is pursuing her master's degree in school counseling. As part of the first student cohort of the program, Meave says just learning about the requirements for college was a real eyeopener. Later, as an adviser who was a first-generation Hispanic student herself, she could both speak the high school students' language and relate to their experiences. "I was mainly demystifying the college-admission progress," she says. "Many think you have to be a 4.0 student to make college possible and you have to have money. That's not the case for these students." She explains there are grants and loans to make college possible, as there were for her.
With eight campuses and 70,000-plus students, Miami Dade Community College in Florida awards more associate degrees to Latinos than any other institution in the country, according to a recent report by Excelencia in Education. Administrators are frequent visitors to local high schools to help with academics and financial aid and get students ready and motivated for college, says the college provost, Rolando Montoya.
Instead of waiting for students to come to the college, Miami Dade staff members from admissions and financial aid go to the high schools on evenings and Saturdays for "FAFSA marathons" to help families, many of whom are Latino, fill out the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. A financial-aid officer explains the process step by step,with floating assistants walking around the room to help parents or students who get stuck completing the form online.
"In the beginning, they are shy. They don't know the terminology. They haven't gone to college," says Montoya. But they are in a familiar setting, with personnel in the high school that they know, and information is translated into Spanish and Haitian Creole. "You can see the faces of gratefulness. Some of them even cry when they realize that their children are graduating and going to college," he says.
The college's faculty members are working with high schools to comply with the new Florida law requiring all 11th graders be tested for college readiness. The community college's professors are also devising curriculum for developmental math and reading so students can get up to speed before enrolling.
"The battle for access was won several years ago. We have a majority-minority institution," says Montoya. "We are not satisfied with the rate of completion. That is the new battle."
Special coverage on the alignment between K-12 schools and postsecondary education is supported in part by a grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education, at www.luminafoundation.org.
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