"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 HispanicBusiness.com.]
"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."
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.
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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