Hispanics' decision to go to college is influenced by parents

By Donna McCollum - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Texas must do a better job increasing Hispanic enrollment in colleges and universities. A progress report to the Higher Education Coordinating Board in Texas shows Hispanic enrollment needs to double in the next six years to meet 2015 goals.

At Stephen F Austin State University Hispanic enrollment is around 8.8%. That's up from the 8.4% seen in 2007. There has been a gradual climb in the number of Hispanic students since 2004.

It takes some students more time than others to enter a college classroom. Erica Estrada is moving into a new apartment, just one aspect of college life the communication student loves. The SFA junior knows the decision she made in middle school to go to college was a good one. She attributes it to parental support. "My grandparents both didn't graduate from high school, so to them education was a really big deal," Estrada shared.  "And my mom graduated from high school and didn't go to college so she wanted me to go further than she did. And I eventually went and came, but I was the only one out of my group of friends that actually went to college."

Some may have been like Salvador Luna's earlier days. Out of high school he worked for numerous restaurants. College never really crossed his mind.  "My parents didn't have much of an education," Luna said.  "I believe they had a third grade education so that was something that was never really discussed."

Fed up with waiting tables , Luna and a buddy showed up at Angelina College, a community college in Lufkin, looking for a better future. "We had no idea what the process was. We didn't know what the first step was, so we were kinda going there cold turkey," Luna recalled.

Luna eventually transferred to SFA and graduated. Today Luna is a juvenile probation officer. He's juggling a career, marriage and fatherhood while going back to school on a full SFA/Hogg Foundation Masters scholarship. It's an SFA incentive to boost Hispanic enrollment and fill a need. Scholarship recipients must agree to use seek a career in mental health in Texas after graduation. "Many practitioners are not prepared to deal with the issue of language," Dr Freddie Avant, Dean of Social Work at SFA explained.

But recruiting Hispanics is a big challenge says Avant. "Each student that we have that are already bilingual, they have jobs waiting for them," Avant said. High schools, community colleges, and minority conferences are targeted by university recruiters. Recently, the SFA Social Work departments partnered with the school of foreign language to seek applicants to its masters' scholarship program.

As more Hispanics enter college the problem of too few at universities may correct itself. Graduates will more than likely teach their children higher education is expected. In the meantime universities must continue efforts to boost enrollment. Reaching the parent is the most successful route. "Really being able to reach the students and their parents and saying these are some of the opportunities for their children to build a profession and a career," is Avant's message.

A quick Google search shows Erica the demand for bilingual skills in all fields. She plans to brush up on her Spanish while mentoring her 23 year old brother. He'll be sharing the new apartment to attend Angelina College.

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