Jacki Cisneros: Why Selective Institutions Deserve YOUR Attention

My husband Gilbert and I pay close attention to trends in education and follow how Latino students are faring at colleges and universities throughout the nation. We want to stay informed so that we understand how to best change the conversation around Hispanic education.

I’m personally motivated by Gilbert’s dedication to support work that advances Latino students in higher education. Most recently, he engaged in a series of conversations about Latino students who go to selective institutions, such as Harvard, UCSB and Stanford, with Sarita Brown and Deborah Santiago of Excelencia in Education in Washington D.C.

Some of the questions they proposed were: Why do several high achieving Latino students choose to enroll in open-access (non-selective) institutions? How can more Latino students be represented at selective schools or top colleges and what type of support do Latino students at these selective schools receive?

I’m proud to share that as a result of these conversations and Gilbert’s leadership, we have funded a research study through our family foundation, The Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation. This research was conducted by Excelencia in Education and was presented at a Capitol Hill briefing this month.

The report, “From Selectivity to Success: Latinos at Selective Institutions,” examines the profile of Latino students at the most selective institutions in the United States and seeks to understand what those institutions are intentionally and specifically doing that support Latino student success.

What is a selective institution? Think of it as one of the top colleges in the nation. The research describes a selective institution as being recognized by their competitive admissions, low admittance rates, higher cost to attend, and the prestige garnered from achievements of alumni. This research focused on four of the most selective institutions in California, including two public and two private institutions:  The University of California-Santa Barbara, the University of California-Berkeley, Stanford University and the University of La Verne.

The study found that only 12 percent of Latino college students are enrolled at the most selective institutions across the nation. What caught their attention is that at those selective institutions, Latino graduation rates are significantly higher than less selective schools. So while the number of Latino students getting into these top colleges is still low, the ones that do attend are finding greater success and graduating at higher rates.

So what are these top colleges doing differently from other schools to recruit, retain and graduate Latino students? These higher education colleges and universities spend significantly greater resources on students than less selective institutions. Excelencia’s research shows that these institutions invest significantly in the instructional, academic support, and student services of their students and have institutional practices intentionally serving Latino students.

The four California institutions that were studied have made an effort to target student support services, expand financial opportunities, rely on ethnic centers, provide research opportunities and strong connections with school alumni, all being useful strategies in retaining Latino students.

Take a look at each of these findings:

Student support services:

Student support services are an important component of Latino student success. Through these centers, schools provide tutoring, mentoring, and math and writing workshops for students who need additional academic support.

Expanded financial aid opportunities

Many students need financial aid to attend college. These universities recognize the financial needs of the students they serve, and as a result, financial aid opportunities have been expanded to increase student retention and completion.

Ethnic and cultural departments on campus:

By supporting community and alumni efforts targeting Latinos, these departments help foster a sense of community for Latino students, as a way for students to receive academic and personal support from office staff, peers, and alumni. Families are included in new student orientations so that parents have a better understanding of the campus, financial aid, and academic advisement. Two examples of these ethnic departments include The Chicana/o and Latina/o Student Development Office at UC Berkeley and El Centro Chicano y Latino at Stanford.

Undergraduate research opportunities:

Research opportunities on these campuses allow Latino students to develop research and professional skills, and to be more competitive for post-graduation opportunities.

Connections with alumni:

This type of outreach to alumni has created support networks for Latino students while enrolled and has expanded opportunities for them to find employment after graduation. These schools engage with prospective students by outreach to their local community. For example, at all four institutions, current students go back to their community’s high school to recruit prospective students.

While there has been an increase in attendance at these top colleges, very few of the most selective institutions have a high concentration of Latino enrollment. The percentage is still low when compared to other groups. To close the Latino achievement gap, students should apply to and attend the universities and colleges that they’re academically qualified for.

There is promise in these findings. We have every confidence that our students can achieve this. I’m excited for the new opportunities we’ll now have, as a foundation, to hold larger conversations with leaders across higher education, policy and business sectors.

With these focused resources and support for Latinos, students and their families, along with the guidance of school staff and programs like ours at Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera, can continue to focus on forging a path for our students to study at the best schools in the nation. The resources and opportunities exist and we’re determined to help get them there.

College Readiness Checklist for Parents

By the School Community Network

As May begins, high school seniors are enjoying their final weeks in school before graduation. In just a few months, they will be stepping onto college campuses for the first time and beginning a new chapter in their lives.

Twenty-five percent of college students drop out in their freshman year because they are not academically, emotionally or financially prepared for college life and adulthood. College takes planning and preparation. Fortunately, there are things that parents can do to make sure that their child is ready for what will be one of the biggest transitions of his or her life.

Here’s a college readiness checklist to make sure your high school grads are prepared for what’s waiting for them on campus. (Teachers, you may wish to pass this on to your students’ parents.)

Arrange for them to speak formally to a recent college grad.

No one can give your child better advice than a family friend who has recently completed college and found a career in their chosen field. Encourage your child to speak with them about what it takes to be successful in college and what, if anything, they may have done differently.

Teach them the ins-and-outs of their college finances.

Students are more likely to take college seriously if they understand how their college finances work. To show them the importance of making the most out of their education on a day-in, day-out basis, go beyond yearly tuition totals and review the cost breakdown of each individual class. Also show them the benefit that finishing in four years will have on their long-term financial future.

Have them start building their network — now.

Some of the most important connections your child can make in college are ones that begin before they even set foot on campus. Encourage them to speak with their future roommate, other high school classmates who are attending the same college, and student officers in the clubs your child may be interested in joining. Sites like Unigo.com will allow your child to connect with future classmates who may share similar interests. And when your child arrives at school, urge them to participate in activities and meet new people.

Help them learn to manage their time.

Encourage them to use a digital calendar to keep track of appointments and deadlines. Many students arrive at college not knowing how to manage their time effectively. Digital calendars, such as Google Calendar or Apple’s iCal, can be accessed from a smartphone or tablet, allowing students to stay on top of their schedule no matter where they are.

Make sure they get to know their faculty advisor.

Making big decisions like picking a major or following a career path can be daunting, causing students to put them off as long as possible. Faculty advisors, provided to students by most colleges, can help take the fear out of the process. Make sure your child develops a relationship with their faculty advisor as early as possible to ensure their choices are well informed.

Show them how to use social media beyond photos on Facebook.

College-age students are among the most active users of social media, but how many are aware of the ways it can benefit them academically and professionally? Have your child talk with recent grads who have used social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to help build their academic network and market themselves as professionals. Additionally, sites like Unigo.com can help students get a feel for their school’s culture before stepping foot on campus.

Equip them with the right technology.

To succeed in college, students need technology that works with the latest tools and systems being used in the classroom. Only a few years ago, this simply meant buying the latest model laptop. These days, as colleges introduce more technology into the classroom, students are using a combination of devices — such as tablets, smartphones and e-readers — to stay on top of their coursework and connect with classmates. Check the school’s technology guidelines before making any major purchases.

Going the Extra Mile

By Karen Lopez

*We are so proud of Karen and look forward to hearing back from her as she makes her way to and through George Washington University!

G1DPR gave me the resources and encouragement I needed when I was in the process of applying to a selective school. The program pushed me to apply to schools a little out of my comfort zone, but at the same time, schools that were a perfect match. There were various times where the stress took a hold of me, and G1DPR was there to help on a personal level as well.

Getting accepted to a selective institution has always been a dream of mine. To my family and I, having the privilege of attending a selective institution means success; education is a core value within my family. Moving on to the next chapter in my life and knowing that I will prosper in a challenging environment, while having great resources at hand, make my family proud.

To those on the path of applying to a selective institution, make sure to use all the resources available, take any opportunity given to you, and always go the extra mile. When you make the most out of something, you get the most out of it.