Higher Education Leaders Discuss How to Serve Hispanics

October 17, 2013
Dr. Estela Mara Bensimon

Dr. Estela Mara Bensimon

By Andrea Bennett

Nearly 200 college and university leaders from more than 40 institutions attended an October 11th conference with the shared purpose of advancing their work towards equity and excellence for the Latino students on their campuses.

The Institute for Equity, Effectiveness and Excellence at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), hosted by the USC Rossier School of Education’s Center for Urban Education (CUE), targeted the concerns and aspirations of both current and emerging Hispanic Serving Institutions—those with student populations that are at least 25 percent Latino.

Professor Manuel Pastor

Professor Manuel Pastor

USC Professor Manuel Pastor delivered an informative and inspirational keynote, in which he provided a rich illustration of the shifting demographics of California.

“People often think that it’s all happening here in California, and we’re going to be 150 percent minority soon, but it is going to happen everywhere,” Pastor said. “California is just America fast-forward.”

Pastor also highlighted the significant generation gap, with the median age of whites at 42 and the median age of Latinos at 27, and a disinvestment of the younger generation by the older. And he detailed California’s income distribution inequality, which put the state behind Georgia and Alabama.

Equity and inclusion are not add-ons but rather fundamental and defining of whom we will be as a state and a nation. And Latino issues are America’s issues.

Professor Manuel Pastor

A panel discussion followed featuring three presidents of HSIs—one from a two-year community college, another from a four-year public university and a third from a four-year private institution—discussing how they have attempted to embed a culture of equity at their institutions. Peter Garcia, president of Diablo Valley College, said institutions must repopulate themselves with equity-minded individuals in order to change culture.

“Presidents don’t change institutions; they hold space for institutions to change themselves,” Garcia said. “It is decades of work, but you can see that we also have decades of demographic change happening.”

Devorah Lieberman, president of the University of La Verne, also urged attendees to strive to be a truly Hispanic-Serving Institution, rather than just a Hispanic-Enrolling Institution. Attendee Suzy Ames, an administrator at Skagit Valley College, whose president brought 15 staff members to the institute, said her school has a growing Latino population and is positioning itself to soon become a HSI.

“We are trying to figure out how to track our Latino students, which is not as easy as it sounds, and programs and strategies to get them through to completion that we can infuse throughout the college,” she said.

Ames and a colleague attended a breakout session on how to read stories in numerical data and make that data real for people who consider themselves “dataphobes.”

Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux

Professor Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux

Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux PhD ‘08, assistant professor at George Washington University, presented a report on the state of equity at the 112 two-and four-year institutions that qualify as HSIs in California.

The report, co-authored by USC Professor Roberto Suro, director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, is now available to the public at http://trpi.uscmediacurator.com/category/collections/hsi/

Professor Roberto Suro

Professor Roberto Suro

Among their findings: 46 percent of Latinos from the highest API-ranked schools opt to go to community college; 15 percent go to a CSU; and 5 percent go to a UC.

“These are students with access to high schools with AP courses and many resources, often in wealthier communities,” said Malcom-Piqueux.

She also reported that Latinos have the lowest success rates at California HSIs in STEM courses, compared to whites and Asians, and Latinos in HSI community colleges have low levels of success in transferring to a CSU in a STEM field, and even lower to a UC in a STEM field.

“It’s not just in California that HSIs have trouble achieving equity for Latino students,” she said. “It’s the entire education system. The good news is that you are here to affect change on your campuses.”

CUE partners with higher education institutions and systems to increase equity for students of color through data analysis and inquiry activities.

Administrators from Los Medanos College, which has partnered with CUE in the past to conduct CUE’s Equity Scorecard on their campus, presented a case study of their work to begin a comprehensive equity initiative designed to improve student retention and transfer rates on their campus.

Rosa Armendariz, faculty member at Los Medanos College, said her team faced a great deal of resistance as they began to address equity on campus. “It was a time of a lot of finger-pointing and confrontation and assumptions that there were issues with our students we could not control,” Armendariz recalled. “This was a time when our demographics were changing fast, and some felt that they were losing territory.”

As the administrators pressed on, conducting the Equity Scorecard process on both retention and transfer rates, which then led to implementing initiatives to increase equity, they relied on diplomacy, said Ryan Pedersen, project director for the Title III HSI STEM grant at Los Medanos College.

As we got more immersed in the data, it became a topic in institutional planning meetings. CUE provides the opportunity for people who are equity-minded to hone their skills about how to talk about these things and frame the discussion.

Ryan Pedersen

As the initiative progressed, momentum grew. From 2003 to 2013, Los Medanos College Latino and African American student success rates have increased substantially, even in high-level STEM courses.

“Our institutional policies are only as good as the people who facilitate them,” said Dave Belman of Los Medanos College. “Organizational culture change takes a lot of time, and in 8 years, we’ve just started to see the change.”

Adrienne Brown, an administrator at Cal State Fullerton, said she and her colleagues were impressed with the discussions during the daylong event.

“This is very related to the work we do, and there are a lot of conversations being had at high levels that address many of the questions and concerns I have had,” said Brown, who added that her campus has an HSI STEM grant. “It is nice that there is such a push to consider what students should be getting out of these institutional designations.”

The October 11th conference was the culmination of the two-day institute, which included a workshop for institutional teams on October 10th. Both days sold out and were attended by institutional leaders, including presidents, provosts and deans, as well as Title V program directors, faculty and student services professionals.