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UI scrambles to better serve Latinos

BY KATHRYN STINSON | FEBRUARY 19, 2010 7:30 AM

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The UI is looking to continue boosting its minority recruitment, particularly for Latinos, according to a Monday report from a task force commissioned by Provost Wallace Loh. But several community members emphasized retaining those students must remain a key element in the equation.

The report said UI officials hope to be recognized as a member of the National Hispanic Institute, an educational resource for Latinos. And the UI has hiked Latino enrollment from 746 students in 2006 to 886 in 2010.

On top of that, the UI received a one-time chunk of federal stimulus money to increase outreach to minority students, said Nicole Nisly, the UI interim chief diversity officer.

“There is clearly a link between excellence and diversity,” said Nisly, also a co-chairwoman for the Internalization and Diversity Taskforce. “It’s very important we realize the population of Iowa is becoming more and more diverse.”

Two years ago, the UI Admissions Office updated its website to offer a Spanish page. It also added Spanish speaking admissions advisers after hearing requests for some, said Debra Miller, an associate director of undergraduate admissions.

Officials will also send more recruiters to areas with high Latino populations, Nisly said.

Bilingual representatives from the UI Center for Diversity and Enrichment will travel to schools to provide information on the UI to minority students and their parents, who sometimes don’t speak English any may not be familiar with the college search process or experience, Miller said.

Despite the focus on diversifying the UI’s student body, Nisly agreed with several students that once students get on campus, retention is still a concern.

When UI senior Ramiro Ramos came to Iowa City, he said felt isolated as a minority student.
“There just wasn’t a place for me to identify with,” the 23-year-old said. Then he found the Latino/Native American Culture Center, a home away from home for Ramos.

“The programs work, and the people are fantastic,” he said, “but the UI is skating by on a minimum.”

Elizabeth Macias, a UI sophomore Latina student, said the university is proactive when it comes to recruiting minority students, but officials need to offer more programs to help keep students here.

“I would like to see the university involved in planning programs or events for minority students,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Not just from the cultural centers.”

And low graduation rates for minority students illustrate the problem.

Latinos are the largest and youngest minority group in the United States, numbering around 35.3 million, according to the 2000 U.S Census Bureau. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts Latinos will be the largest minority population in Iowa by 2050.

This overwhelmingly large group also has the highest dropout rate — only around a quarter will graduate from college, according to the National Educational Longitudinal Survey.

The UI offers numerous support networks including the Center for Diversity & Enrichment, Iowa Edge, and the Latino/Native American Culture Center.

But Macias said she doesn’t feel these resources — especially the centers — get enough attention.

“Most if not all of the non-minority students don’t even know these cultural centers exist,” Macias said. “But everyone is aware of a Lupe Fiasco concert. It’s just an example of what things seem to be more important to the university when cultural awareness should be on the top of its list.”

Nisly said the UI gave the cultural centers additional money this year to enhance programs, but officials hope to focus on these efforts more as the university recovers from the budget crisis.

Luisa Orticelli, a UI graduate student who manages the Latino/Native American Culture Center, said mentor and support programs are vital in sustaining minority retention.

“It doesn’t matter to me how many minority students there are,” she said. “Their success relies on the programs that are created to see them succeed.”


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