Educating the Next Generation of Professionals About Community Colleges & Latinx/a/o Student Success

Educational outcomes for the Latinx/a/o community have improved in recent years. High school dropout rates have decreased, and college enrollment has increased nationally (Fry, 2011). In Colorado, we see this impact. We have seen an increase in out-of-state institutions recruiting in Colorado. This is because we are the only state in our region, whose high school graduation rate is increasing (Prescott & Bransberger, 2012). Growth in the Latinx/a/o population has contributed to this trend (Prescott & Brasnberger, 2012). We also see the growth in Latinx/a/o college enrollments. Five of our fifteen community colleges are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI’s), as are three of our universities. Still more of our institutions of higher education in Colorado are emerging HSI’s enrolling between seventeen to twenty four percent Latinx/a/o students. Yet, in spite of these increases, Latinx/a/o college completion outcomes lag behind White students (Contreras & Contreras, 2015; Crisp, Taggart, & Nora, 2015).

Many myths still exist about Latinx/a/o students’ commitment and ability to complete a college education. If we are to prepare our population for the jobs of the future, seventy percent of which will require some type of postsecondary degree or credential (Deming, Yuchtman, Abulafi, Goldin, & Katz, 2016), we must disrupt the narratives about Latinx/a/o students and their families not valuing education. This issue affects our communities, our workforce, our employers, our economy, and the overall well-being of our state. This is a national issue as well. Changing outcomes starts with us as leaders in community colleges training the next generation of student affairs leaders.

As a faculty member in higher education and student affairs leadership, I feel a professional and personal responsibility for preparing the next generation of student affairs leaders in community colleges to serve Latinx/a/o students effectively. I am a second-generation college graduate. My ancestors settled in the American Southwest in what is now New Mexico in the early 1500s, and remained there for centuries working the farms and ranches for their livelihood. Most schooling went to the eighth grade, and then students returned to their farms and ranches to help their families. This system worked for centuries. The community thrived. Nearing the middle of the 20th century, my grandparents realized the world was changing. Education was rapidly becoming the pathway to the middle class. My grandparents began to dream. Even though they did not have the opportunity to finish high school, they were always reading and learning. They approached life with intellectual curiosity. Their dream was for their sons to graduate from high school. To make this happen, they made the difficult decision to move to Colorado, to a town that was unhospitable to Latinos. They left behind all they had ever known, and a community that supported and accepted them to pursue their dream. Of their ten children, nine graduated from college, and five earned graduate or professional degrees. They entered professions, and became members of the middle class. Their achievements exceeded my grandparents’ dreams. Their expectations for their grandchildren increased accordingly. When it was time for me to leave for college, my grandma told me, “You go and get your education, but never forget where you came from.”

I graduated from college, embarked on a career in higher education, and earned advanced degrees. However, my grandma’s advice was never far from my consciousness. I have worked at institutions and in programs with a social justice focus. I have chosen my positions carefully, focusing on those that would allow me to work with first-generation college students. I have worked at HSIs, minority-serving institutions, and open access institutions. I have been a faculty member, a student affairs administrator, and an academic administrator. I have presented and published in my field approaching my career and life with intellectual perspectives, as my grandparents, and parents, modeled for me. Throughout it all, regardless of what position I held, I took every opportunity to teach. My story is a powerful story. It is an American story. It is not enough, however, to have personal narratives to support preparing the next generation of community college leaders to improve educational outcomes for Latinx/a/o students.

We need research-based publications with scholar-practitioner perspectives.Luckily, student affairs scholar-practitioners have recognized the importance and timeliness of this issue. Two recent NASPA publications have been very helpful in my teaching about Latinx/a/o students. First, in Five Things Student Affairs Professionals Can Do to Support Latinx/a/o Students in Community Colleges, authors Ignacio Hernandez, Susana Hernandez, and Magdalena de la Teja offer a guided, positive approach to serving the growing Latinx/a/o student population in college. Second, a chapter in Latinx/a/os in Higher Education: Exploring Identity, Pathways, and Success, authors Ignacio Hernandez and Edward Martinez offer scholar and practitioner perspectives on serving Latinx/a/o students in community colleges. Latinx/a/o students are our future. They deserve the very best we have to give our campuses. These publications offer important strategies for successfully serving the fastest growing student population in higher education, and ensuring they have the opportunity to participate fully in all this country has to offer college graduates. We will all be better for the effort. 

Elena Sandoval-Lucero, PhD

Vice President, Boulder County Campus, Front Range Community College

Co-chair NASPA Community College Division, Latinx/a/o Taskforce


References 

Contreras, F., & Contreras, G. J. (2015). Raising the bar for Hispanic serving institutions: An analysis of college completion and success rates. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 14(2), 151-170. 

Crisp, G., Taggart, A., & Nora, A. (2015). Undergraduate Latina/o students: A systematic review of research identifying factors contributing to academic success outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 85(2), 249-274. 

Deming, D. J., Yuchtman, N., Abulafi, A., Goldin, C., & Katz, L. F. (2016). The value of postsecondary credentials in the labor market: An experimental study. American Economic Review, 106(3), 778-806. 

Fry, R. (2011). Hispanic college enrollment spikes, narrowing gaps with other groups. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center, 1-30.

Prescott, B. T., & Bransberger, P. (2012). Knocking at the college door: Projections of high school graduates. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED540129.pdf