N.J. University Works To Improve Graduation Rates For Latinos

Apr 2, 2018
Originally published on April 2, 2018 7:55 am
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Latino students make up the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group enrolled in U.S. colleges since 2000. But they face one of the lowest graduation rates in the country. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports on how one school is trying to change that.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: One of the newest schools to be designated a Hispanic-serving institution, also known as an HSI, is Montclair State University in New Jersey. Being an HSI means at least 1 out of 4 students at your school identifies as Latino. And for Brian Gutierrez, a senior at Montclair State, it's hard to believe there are that many Latino undergrads at a school.

BRIAN GUTIERREZ: To me, that's crazy.

WANG: Why is that crazy?

GUTIERREZ: That's crazy because when you think of Hispanics, a lot of time, they don't think that we go towards higher education. A lot of people look down on us.

WANG: Gutierrez is president of Montclair State's Latin American Student Organization. When he started studying here, he didn't expect to become so involved in recruiting more Latino students.

GUTIERREZ: They're going to go to different career path activities.

WANG: But this past summer, he was taking the lead on campus, trying to encourage more students like him to go to college. He served as a mentor for a new college prep program designed specifically for Hispanic high schoolers like 18-year-old Mario Batista.

MARIO BATISTA: And I'm from Perth Amboy. I want to be an architect, so this is my first step towards that.

WANG: Mario Batista has been on this campus before.

M. BATISTA: I found it.

WANG: This is your room.

M. BATISTA: Yes.

WANG: But this was his first time staying overnight in a college dorm.

M. BATISTA: I'm kind of nervous, kind of excited. I don't know how to feel. I'm kind of hoping that it's a moment that I'll never forget.

LYDIS BATISTA: He's the youngest. So yeah, he's like my baby.

WANG: Lydis Batista is Mario's older sister. She's a senior here Montclair State. And living away from home has been part of her college experience. But she says it's a setup that many Latino parents are just getting used to.

L. BATISTA: A lot of our parents don't know what moving into college is because they haven't been through it. So I feel like this program helps because when we go home, we want to tell them about our experience. And it's like, Mom, Dad, like, this is what's going to happen when we graduate from high school.

WANG: Montclair State's college prep program is also focused on what happens beyond the dorm.

DANIEL JEAN: Team success.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Chanting) Team success.

JEAN: Team success.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Chanting) Team success.

WANG: Motivational speakers, school administrators and professors held workshops on writing essays, polishing resumes and finding scholarships and grants. Anne-Marie Nunez of Ohio State University studies Hispanic-serving institutions. And she says programs like these help address the needs of many Latino students.

ANNE-MARIE NUNEZ: Hispanics are more likely to be averse to taking out loans for their education. They're more likely to want to stay closer to home.

WANG: Nunez says despite the growing numbers of Latino college students, the faculty at most schools, including Montclair State University, is not as diverse. Senior Brian Gutierrez says he's missed out on having more potential mentors he can identify with. Still, Gutierrez has been offering his mentorship to younger Latino students.

ARYNN HERNANDEZ: That made me want to do the whole business side for my robotics team, and now I'm in love with it.

WANG: Oh, that's good.

HERNANDEZ: Yeah.

WANG: ...Like 18-year-old Arynn Hernandez, who came to campus from Hockessin, Del., for the Hispanic Student College Institute

HERNANDEZ: I was hoping to be an investment banker, but now I'm just trying to get any exposure I can in business in general.

WANG: Brian Gutierrez has been studying for a business administration degree with ambitions, he says, not only for himself, but also for his community.

GUTIERREZ: I want Hispanics to be able to be noticed. I want to break the stereotype of Hispanics just being immigrants to this country that don't offer anything, because we do offer a lot.

WANG: Gutierrez says he's ready to offer everything he's learned in school and apply it to a career in marketing. He's set to graduate in May. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Montclair, N.J.

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