U’s Latino proportion below city’s

Amy Horst

The percentage of Latinos at the University is half their proportion in the metropolitan population, according to fall registration enrollment statistics.

Latino students make up 2.2 percent of University students. However, 5 percent of people in Hennepin and Ramsey counties and 14 percent nationally are Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

For Latino students, or students whose ethnic origin is a Spanish-speaking country, this sometimes means feelings of isolation.

Miguel Vargas, a College of Liberal Arts senior, said that when he started at the University he often felt like the only Latino student around.

“It didn’t even feel like the city,” said Vargas, who grew up in St. Paul. “It felt like a suburb.”

He said it was not always easy for him to form close friendships with white students, but student groups such as La Raza and the Chicano and Latino Learning Resource Center helped him feel more at home at the University.

Despite this, community leaders said the problem is not necessarily with the University.

While they said the University could do more to increase the number of Latino students, the root of the problem is state and national policies the University cannot directly control.

Jorge Flores, a community organizer for the Center for Workers’ Rights, said many Latino students who finish high school are not legal residents and therefore lack the paperwork they need to apply to college.

He said Latino student numbers might increase if Congress passes the Dream Act – a federal bill first proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in July 2002 – which would allow undocumented immigrants to attend college or join the armed forces.

“If this passes, it will be a huge benefit to immigrant students,” Flores said.

Flores also said there are larger factors influencing who goes to the University.

“Maybe this is not the University’s fault,” Flores said, adding that the state has not taken responsibility for ensuring fair access to education.

Texas and California, he said, give more low-interest loans for low-income students.

Wayne Sigler, director of the admissions office, said the University is committed to diversity outreach.

He said the number of Latino students fluctuates from year to year and looking at one or two years’ Latino enrollment might not paint a complete picture.

“We’re not, of course, self-satisfied or resting on our laurels, because we always want to improve and do better there,” Sigler said.

He said the University is working on more community outreach to attract more students from all underrepresented groups.