University’s Hispanic rate lags behind state’s growth

Minnesota’s Hispanic population grew twice as quickly as the University’s.

by Andrew Johnson

Even though the Hispanic population is the fastest-growing group in the state, the number of Hispanic students at the University of Minnesota hasnâÄôt followed suit, and is the lowest in the Big Ten.
Over the past decade, the stateâÄôs Hispanic population has increased nearly 75 percent, but the UniversityâÄôs has grown by only 35 percent over that time.
Despite low numbers, the success of Hispanic students at the University has improved in areas such as ACT scores, first-year retention rates and four-year graduation rates.
Meanwhile, among Big Ten universities, the University is at the bottom in Hispanic enrollment. The spring 2011 enrollment numbers show that Hispanics make up about 2.3 percent of the students, only a slight increase from 1.7 percent in fall 2000.
Statewide, Hispanics constitute 4.7 percent of Minnesota residents. Proportionally, representation on campus is less than half that of the state.
Louis Mendoza, associate vice provost in the Office for Equity and Diversity as well as chairman of the Department of Chicano Studies, feels that is an indication of underrepresentation.
âÄúAny public university should strive to have proportional representation of its population,âÄù he said. âÄúAt the very least, we need to stay at pace with the projected growth of the population.âÄù
Mendoza said this is âÄúcause for a serious wakeupâÄù for not just higher education, but the primary education system.
âÄúWe need to plan for a future that shows thereâÄôs going to be more and more [Latino] students,âÄù he said.
One in six people in the U.S. is Latino, Mendoza said. Among children, the number is one in four. For that reason, he added, the education system has to be more accommodating to these students from an early age and ensure their success.
He said Hispanic representation on a campus is dependent on the universityâÄôs initiatives as well its efforts in attracting students.
The University of Illinois had the highest percentage of Hispanic enrollment in the Big Ten at 6.1 percent.
Mendoza complimented the University of IllinoisâÄô better programs and resources such as the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies.
âÄúThey make a commitment,âÄù he said. âÄúYou see that sign in the structure of the university to better accommodate these students and do a better outreach.âÄù
‘Students who can succeed’
Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, said measures such as the ACT and class rank help determine if students are college-ready.
âÄúWe want to bring in students who we know can succeed at this university,âÄù McMaster said.
The University accepts only students who have taken standardized tests, such as the ACT. In Minnesota, only 2 percent of those taking the ACT are Hispanic.
Minnesota was tied with Ohio as the Big Ten state with the smallest percentage of ACT takers who are Hispanic. Ohio State was second to last, ahead of only the University of Minnesota, in the percentage of enrollees who are Hispanic.
While it may give the University a smaller pool to pull from, the results of the average ACT scores among Hispanic freshmen over the past six years show an upward trend.
From 2004-10, the average ACT score among Chicano/Latino students went from 22.9 to 25.6.
In a system where improving 1 percentage point on the ACT is âÄúherculean,âÄù the past six yearâÄôs upward bent is significant, McMaster said.
Similarly, the average high school rank of Hispanic freshmen has risen. From 2004-10, the average high school rank went up about 12 percentage points to put them in the top 82.5 percent of their classes.
The average rank for white students went up 5 percentage points to 85.8 percent.
What is important to note, McMaster said, is the closure in the gap when compared to white students. Along with average class rank, areas like average ACT scores and four-year graduation rates, Hispanic students have minimized the gap.
Hispanic students surpassed white students in first-year retention rates. Hispanics have seen almost a 10 percent increase from 2004-09, to 89.8 percent retention.
White students experienced a 1.1 percentage point increase over the same span, reaching 89.7 percent.
McMaster said these figures are âÄúterrificâÄù in displaying the Hispanic studentsâÄô success once they come to campus, adding that thatâÄôs whatâÄôs more important.
Office of Admissions Director Wayne Sigler said geography also plays a role in attracting Hispanic students.
Aside from Penn State, the University is the furthest from Chicago, a major market with a strong Hispanic population, compared to other Big Ten schools.
 Sigler said the Office of Admissions and University as a whole are still dedicated to attracting Hispanic students and donâÄôt see geography as an excuse, but rather a reality of the situation.
âÄúDemographics and geography do matter and have an impact on enrollment,âÄù he said.
Similar to the ACT pool, the state of Minnesota has a small percentage of Hispanics compared to other Big Ten states.
âÄúHaving a diverse student body that mirrors the population is one of the highest priorities at the University of Minnesota,âÄù Sigler said. âÄúAll of our students, faculty and staff benefit when that happens.âÄù
âÄúIt will certainly benefit the community, but itâÄôs about the well-being of the University,âÄù Mendoza said. âÄúThese are our future constituents.âÄù
Mendoza said he hopes to see more efforts taken to increase the UniversityâÄôs Hispanic population.
âÄúWe need to be more innovative in our recruitment of students. We need to put resources behind this to make sure it happens.âÄù