News Column

Head of the Class

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A diverse student body and faculty have long been cited as key elements for many of the colleges on our 2007 Best Schools for Hispanics lists.

Despite their efforts, attracting and keeping Hispanic students continue to be two of the colleges' toughest challenges even with the explosion in the Hispanic population, there are too many graduate schools competing for too few applicants.

For Arnold Ventura, a second-year MBA candidate at Stanford's business school and the first in his family to go to college, the "culture shock" of his first semester at UC Berkeley nearly caused him to flunk out of school.

"It was such a foreign experience, being away from my family, being in a large school with not a lot of Latinos ... it was a huge challenge," he recalls. "I had the same challenges as other students, but add to that set of challenges, being a Latino. I would look around the classroom at other students who didn't have my same background, my same vocabulary, or even same language; it started to affect my confidence."

Higher education is a social as well as academic experience, so attending a campus with at least some ethnic peers and faculty can make a big difference for any student.

Finding the right school is intensely personal, and although the process can't be reduced to an equation, certain objective criteria can help. Most college rankings, including our Top 10 Business, Law, Engineering, and Medical schools lists, take into account a school's academic excellence. But the Hispanic Business lists go beyond the straight curriculum questions to look at enrollment by U.S. citizens, faculty, student services, and retention rates.

"You can never be too complacent," says Derrick Bolton, director of MBA admissions at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. "You have to keep focusing on delivering the best experience you can; I look less at other business schools and more at what our expectations are of our students. Are we exceeding their expectations or failing them?"

The business school's approach appears to be working. Stanford University's Graduate School of Business tops this year's Top 10 Business Schools, a spot it has held for the last two years. Stanford also ranks No. 2 in our medical schools list and No. 8 among our selected law schools.

Stanford's business school also recruits Hispanic students through the Charles P. Bonini Partnership for Diversity Fellowship program. Before entering the MBA program, Bonini Fellows are placed in nine- to 12-month internships with participating corporate partners, which have included Eli Lilly and General Motors. Students are paid competitive salaries, and receive full-tuition grants for two years at the business school.

This fall, Stanford's business school will launch its new MBA curriculum, which allows each student to take courses that best match their background and experience.

"In the last 15 years, we have deliberately increased the diversity in our students. What we didn't have was a curriculum that leveraged that diversity to the fullest," Mr. Bolton says. "In making that shift, we really looked closely at the needs of students and needs of the business world."

Corporate Boost
Public institutions have often outpaced the marketplace in focusing on diversity, but having the added demand by corporations for minority hires has bolstered the universities' case for inclusion.

"The schools are looking for diversity not because of a business imperative, but a moral imperative. That came first," Mr. Bolton says. "But, I do think the fact that business is on board gives me as an admissions officer more leverage to go to the people that control the resources and say, 'Listen, we need to put more money into the National Society of Hispanic MBAs.'"

"Recruiters are looking for a diverse student body, so we at the engineering college are very keen to serving engineering companies throughout the country and the world," echoes Pramod Khargonekar, dean of the University of Florida College of Engineering [No. 3 in its debut on the engineering schools list]. "The first thing we hear is, 'We want a diverse student body from which to pick.'"

While a handful of the schools have been among the top 10 Best Schools for Hispanics since the directory was introduced, 10 universities have joined this year's list, edging out schools such as the University of Connecticut School of Law and New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business. [The Top 20 schools are available at]

"It's not difficult to get fluctuations year to year, but the hard thing is to increase enrollment and sustain it," says Robert Saltzman, associate dean of the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law [No. 4 this year]. "One big piece is not so much the recruitment piece but what happens when they're here and even when they graduate. In the end, the most effective way for us to convince students to choose to come here is [for them to] meet current students and meet graduates who tell them this was a good place to go to.

"It's different from an admissions officer saying a marketing spiel."

Legal Challenges
Every university has its unique set of challenges when building a diverse student population, from geographic limitations to immigration issues. But there is also a confusing legal backdrop.

"The second-largest issue facing enrollment is the decision the state of Oklahoma made regarding scholarship funding of National Hispanic Scholars," says Elizabeth Cook, director of diversity and the Multicultural Engineering Program at the University of Oklahoma College of Engineering [No. 8 on our list]. "Because this was viewed as an 'ethnic-based' scholarship program some of the funding was cut for this program and we no longer offer 'full rides' to these students."

Prior to the ruling, National Hispanic Scholars received the same scholarship program as National Merit students. To help make up the loss of money for its engineering students, the college has increased private funding awards for Hispanic students. This past year, the college of engineering had seven National Hispanic Scholars.

Another complication is the problematic status of affirmative action, says Mr. Saltzman at USC's Gould School of Law.

"The primary indicators that law schools use for predicting success of an applicant in law school are the undergraduate GPA and the LSAT [Law School Admission Test]. The problem we have experienced, particularly as more and more students have wanted to apply to law school, is that those two numbers, the LSAT and the GPA, instead of being used to open the door to law school, which is what they were originally meant to be, are being used as a way to keep people out."

He attributes his law school's success in increasing its minority enrollment to how it interprets these indicators. "It's a hard process because there is a lot of pressure on every school to get those numbers up."

Building Up Engineering
Engineering schools face some of the biggest challenges in recruitment of Hispanics. Although Hispanics make up 14 percent of the U.S. population, fewer than 5 percent have engineering degrees and an even smaller number have masters and doctorate degrees in engineering.

"As a nation, we don't produce enough Hispanic engineers at the undergraduate level, so only a small fraction of them are going to go to graduate school," says Mr. Khargonekar from University of Florida's College of Engineering. "We have a tremendous environment for Hispanics not only to come here but to come here and do really well.

"What we're doing now is building on top of undergraduate success to build up both the quality and the quantity of our graduate Hispanic student body."

The university is recruiting the help of its Hispanic graduate students and alumni members to serve as ambassadors.

"They're the best spokespeople for students," Mr. Khargonekar says. "When we bring new students, they're already connected with students who are doing well and feel good about being here."

Purdue University's College of Engineering [No. 2 for a second year] continues to place a high priority on recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty and graduate student population. In 2006, 13 percent of the new faculty hires at the College of Engineering were Hispanic, and in May, Purdue hired astrophysicist France Cordova as president, making her the first Hispanic woman to lead the West Lafayette, Indiana, campus.

Starting Earlier
While most diversity efforts begin with the application process, many admissions officers agree that in order to make a significant shift in the number of Hispanics pursuing higher education, more needs to be done at the middle and primary school levels, particularly in math and science.

"There is a funnel effect," Mr. Khargonekar explains. "The numbers of kids from [kindergarten through 12th grade] slowly drop out of science and math, and every step of the way you're going to lose students. By the time they get to grad schools, you've lost 99 percent of the students.

"I feel like there is a tremendous wall that we're fighting against," he adds. "As a country, we have not managed to take this problem and devote to it the kind of attention and resources that we need to. We pay a lot of lip service to it, but we don't demand results."

"I'm very proud of the fact that we're No. 1 in producing Hispanic undergraduates, but you look around the nation and you can say we're doing a pitiful job of solving the problems."

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