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.