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Higher ed leaders map plans to serve Hispanics

by Andrea Bennett
Estela Mara Bensimon, co-director of the Center for Urban Education, was among the USC Rossier representatives at the conference focusing on Hispanic-Serving Instiutions (Photo/Emily Ogle)
Photo: Estela Mara Bensimon, co-director of the Center for Urban Education, was among the USC Rossier representatives at the conference focusing on Hispanic-Serving Instiutions (Photo/Emily Ogle)

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

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 institutions with student populations that are at least 25 percent Latino.

USC Professor Manuel Pastor delivered the keynote in which he illustrated 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. He also 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,” he explained. “And Latino issues are America’s issues.”

A panel discussion 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 — detailed 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.”

Attendee Suzy Ames, an administrator at Skagit Valley College, 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 PhD ‘08, assistant professor at George Washington University, presented a report — co-authored by USC Professor Roberto Suro, director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute — on the state of equity at the 112 two-and four-year institutions that qualify as HSIs in California.

Among their findings: Forty-six percent of Latinos from the highest API-ranked schools opt to go to community college, 15 percent go to a California state university (CSU) and 5 percent go to a University of California (UC) institution.

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

She also reported that Latinos have the lowest success rates at California HSIs in science, technology, engineering and math (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 it 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,” he said. “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.”

As the initiative progressed, momentum grew. From 2003 to 2013, Los Medanos 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. “Organizational culture change takes a lot of time, and in eight years, we’ve just started to see the change.”

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