Hispanic, Latino pop. on the rise

by Youssef Rddad

The country’s growing Hispanic and Latino population is putting pressure on University of Minnesota officials to look at how they recruit, retain and provide resources for those types of students.
The number of people who identify as Hispanic in the U.S. is expected to reach 120 million by 2060 — making it the nation’s fastest growing population — according to a U.S. census projection. 
The nation’s demographic shift is causing higher education institutions to evaluate how they’re helping and targeting the growing population to ensure those students can graduate and have a successful college experience.
At the University, school leaders are focusing on how they recruit Hispanic and Latino students who are reaching or at college age and set aside resources for supporting the growing population.
The University has seen a 33 percent increase in students who identify as Hispanic from 2005-14, according to the school’s Office of Institutional Research. 
Associate Vice Provost and Director of Admissions Rachelle Hernandez said the school’s admissions office hired a full-time employee two years ago who connects the school’s Chicano, Latino and Hispanic community with prospective students.
Sofia Mulholland Cerkvenik, a Spanish and history sophomore, said she made some of her best friends through a similar campus-led initiative — Casa Sol, a Living Learning Community for first-year and transfer students.
She said it’s important for new Latino and Hispanic students to integrate themselves within the campus community, especially if they are the first in their family to attend college.
In fall 2013, more than 40 percent of University students who identified as Hispanic were first-generation college students, which is about 17 percent higher than the University’s average, according OIR data.
“I feel a lot of first-generation college students are also ones who come from families who are newer to the U.S., so it might make it more difficult because of cultural and language barriers,” Mulholland Cerkvenik said. “The U.S. isn’t that welcoming to new immigrants sometimes.” 
Hernandez said the University has also focused on recruiting students who are eligible for support through the Minnesota Dream Act, which allows undocumented students to attend college and apply for state and University financial aid.
Last year, 350 people applied for support through the Dream Act. This year that number grew to 620, said Ginny Dodds, Minnesota Office of Higher Education Manager of State Financial Aid Programs.
Despite the state-sponsored support, some say the cost of college is still too high for some students within the Latino and Hispanic community to afford.
“For Latinos, who are generally first-generation college students, it usually means they come from lower economic backgrounds because their parents didn’t go to college,” American Studies doctoral student Jesús Estrada-Pérez said.
New focus aside, some say more support is needed
Some members of the University community are concerned with the future of the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies, which plays a major role in operating programs like Casa Sol and La Raza Student Cultural Center.

“I think the administration to some degree knows this population is growing,” said Jimmy Patino, an assistant professor in the department. “[But] whatever they’re doing about it, it has not been to invest in our department.”
After a months-long conversation with school administrators, the department is expected to add a second tenured faculty member before the beginning of the fall semester.
Members of the campus group Whose Diversity? were arrested in February for occupying President Eric Kaler’s office with a list of demands, including hiring more professors in ethnic studies departments. 
The demonstration isn’t an isolated representation of students’ push to better equip the school’s campus with resources for the Latino and Hispanic community.
Incoming Minnesota Student Association vice-president Abeer Syedah started drafting a plan for a task force of students and administrators, which would address issues and disparities within the community at the University and greater Minnesota.
“What we’re trying to do is push administration to gather student input on their own without someone poking at them or without issues becoming so big that they blow up,” Syedah said. “But it comes from a place where people feel like they’re not being heard.”
She said she expects the proposal for the program to be completed in the next few weeks.
Despite the growing population nationwide, students who identify as Hispanic only make up 2.6 percent of the total Twin Cities campus population — the third smallest group behind American Indians and Hawaiians, according to OIR.
“Our population here is small, but we’re strong. It’s always been kind of a theme throughout the disparity within the Hispanic and Latino community in the U.S,” Mulholland Cerkvenik said.