Removing Barriers to Latino College Success

“Do you know what semillas means? Or crecer?” asks Mimi Blaber, a senior director in LaGuardia Community College’s (LCC) adult and continuing education department.

In Spanish, semillas means seeds and crecer to grow, and both words are apt for the supportive work done at LCC, a City University of New York campus where more than 50 percent of students are immigrants from more than 100 countries. Recently, the nonprofit Excelencia in Education honored Blaber and her colleagues for their efforts to support students as they transition from popular non-credit adult programs (like GED classes) to degree-granting programs, a necessary but difficult part of the journey to middle-class life in America.

“They come here because they’re hoping to have a better life and often they see education as the door to a better life,” said David Housel, an assistant director who coordinates the support of social workers for students. “They know you need a degree or a certificate to get a job. They understand that. Especially in New York, those entry-level manufacturing jobs are gone. But sometimes they need support to fulfill those motivations.”

Even as Latino student college enrollment has reached all-time highs, they still lag far behind their peers in college completion rates.  Specifically, while they made up 16 percent of America’s college students in 2011 (the largest percentage ever), they accounted for 8 percent of those earning a bachelor’s degree, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Overall, just 21 percent of the nation’s Hispanics hold a two-year degree or higher, compared to 30 percent of African-Americans and 44 percent of Whites, according to Excelencia in Education.

Obviously, they face obstacles to college completion, especially among first-generation college students and immigrants: “They have cultural barriers. They have language barriers,” says Blaber. “They have financial barriers,” Housel adds. “Most of our folks are working full-time, coming here full-time, and they also have family responsibilities.”

To be successful — to find an appropriate major, earn a degree, get a job, and contribute to their families and local economies — they need support. Fortunately, LCC has found a way to provide it.  In 2009, led by Blaber and Housel, both NEA Higher Ed members, LCC received a SEMILLAS grant from Excelencia in Education. (The other meaning of SEMILLAS? It’s an Excelencia program acronym that stands for “Seeding Educational Models that Impact and Leverage Latino Academic Success.”) They used the money to develop a program called Connecting Resources to Enhance College Excellence and Retention, or CRECER.

The program has created partnerships across the college campus, connecting the dots between adult education, different degree-granting academic departments, and the student registrar’s office. First, the program makes sure that targeted adult education students can get into the regular college, which means navigating a maze of paperwork, making testing appointments, visiting the right offices, applying for student loans and grants, and more. “Nothing about the (admissions) process is intuitive,” says Housel.

Then, once the CRECER students are enrolled, it means making sure they have the support they need to actually graduate. To that end, the program uses a cadre of graduate students seeking master’s degrees in social work who provide individualized support to students. Those social-work interns, or “case workers,” might hear about problems ranging from financial aid snags to domestic-abuse complaints, and they’ll provide referrals ranging for counseling and other services both on campus and off. When students miss classes or even fail a quiz, the case workers are quickly alerted.

Of the 120 students served in CRECER in 2009, all 120 moved into degree-granting programs (a 100 percent conversion rate) and 78 percent persisted into their second-year of the degree program. Overall, 25 percent of the freshman class now comes from the adult and continuing education program, a very significant percentage, said Blaber. “We’re very happy with that number because it really shows how all of our partnerships are having an effect,” she said.

And, beyond the numbers, Blaber and Housel also tell the stories of men and women who have gone on to get degrees, have careers, and make a difference in the lives of their families. “One of the things that’s great about New York City is that we understand that immigrants are contributing to the community — not just culturally, but chiefly economically. Making an investment in immigrants truly pays off.”

  • I just wonder why not give the tools of education ,lower the educational loans for any career training, and College to those who can not afford or pay higher College education.Because the truth is ha all students students do their part and the reason they do it is all to become part of he work force in different careers and they do to help also economically their family .Paying back their parents, society and the Government who gave hem the chance to be who they wanted to become to take care of them selves and serve with their careers the communities. Why are the Republicans denying the help Students deserve today so tomorrow hey won’t have to live under the assistance of he government. This is no an intelligent way to make the country rise from thee debs it carries today and that if this keep going he way the republicans wan o keep taking this country o there is not going to be a better future for the needs of every state needs in their government; to proceed the care of the needs and less the people’s needs.The future of America depends on how the government handles the way children,young teens and young adults will be prepare to make their future and the future the need of the country that will equal Economic Progress and stability.The Government should take the important issue and decisions that help serve the economic future away from he decision and actions from the Republicans hands. They are no making good decisions and neither taking he right direction to help the people and he country.On the contrary it’s bringing ore problems and less revenues to the Financial Systems putting he future of the children and he economy in worst chaos. And turning their backs and face , while asking to become leaders. Really there is no future with them as leaders and less on the economy needs, the people’s (Parents) needs that are the children’s needs..Hope ha he Congress do remember that these children these teens, these young adults are the future of the economy in every state in his country.That they will also receive he SS, Medicare, and other needs that h people also need today to receive and as he same medical assistance if any God forbids gets a disease. Every fund , every penny that the workers give in taxes and people pay daily in taxes in the stores help to find cures and other needs that help every one rich or poor.This is why these new generations need assistance today so tomorrow the country won’t see it self in need of funds for the needs that all may need in the future.With the due Respect , Our Government has to change the way the things that are more important today and for the future, should not end in the hands of irresponsible and uncaring irresponsible republicans.
    Maria Celia Hernandez 5-18-2014