Colleges Target New Immigrants

Jesus Gaytan is one of only a few dozen Hispanic students on the Doane College (search) campus, and he wants that to change. So do college administrators.

In an effort to bolster Hispanic enrollment, Doane is launching a four-day summer camp for new Americans to introduce them to college life. Open to students entering their sophomore and junior years in high school, attendees will meet with faculty, tour the campus and talk to other students who are immigrants.

Similar programs are popping up on college and university campuses across the country as changing demographics have led to more Hispanic students and others who may be the first in their families to attend college.

"Rather than sit around and wait for these new Americans to learn that college is accessible to many kinds of students, we thought we might help some of them a little sooner," said Dan Kunzman, vice president for admissions for Doane College. "They need to know what's out there."

The percentage of Hispanic high school graduates nationwide will increase from 17 percent in 2002 to 21 percent in 2008, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (search) reports.

At the same time, the number of white students will decline from 61 percent in 2002 to 56 percent in 2008.

In Nebraska, Hispanic high school graduates will quadruple by 2018, according to a recent report by the state Commission for Postsecondary Education (search).

Doane is advertising its summer camp in Nebraska cities that have large Hispanic populations. The camp will include an information session for parents in their native languages. Participants also will be given tours of a community college and technical college in the area, as well as the nearby University of Nebraska at Lincoln (search).

"It (the camp) might be helpful for them to see what college is like and maybe get them interested," said Gaytan, who moved to Nebraska from Mexico with his parents 10 years ago.

Doane, a private, four-year liberal arts college, has an enrollment of about 2,100 students, only 2 percent of which are Hispanic.

Figuring out a way to tap into the growing number of Hispanic high school graduates across the country is "the biggest challenge for most colleges that think of themselves as national," said Paul Marthers, dean of admission at Reed College (search) in Portland, Ore.

David Longanecker, executive director of the Boulder, Colo.-based Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, said responses to the increasing number of Hispanic high school graduates have fallen into three general categories: states and schools that react positively with well-designed plans, those that react with poorly designed plans, or those that do not react at all.

Cultural differences also pose a challenge. Hispanics are generally hesitant to leave the communities where they live, which makes it less likely they will travel to a college or university that is not nearby, Longanecker said.

Staying within driving distance of his family's home in Beatrice, 40 miles away, was important to Gaytan and his decision to attend Doane. "I wanted to experience college life but at the same time I knew if I wanted to go home any time, I could," he said.

Meanwhile, in the East, the University of North Carolina (search) is taking steps to attract Hispanic students, especially in light of estimates that show the number of Hispanic high school graduates increasing from 2,000 to 35,000 in 13 years.

To help potential students and their families, a Web site was created with information in Spanish. There also is a bilingual call-in service to answer questions, and more, said Robert Kanoy, associate vice president for access and outreach for the 16-campus system.

"We've certainly been received with open arms," Kanoy said.

Enrollment numbers in the University of North Carolina system are increasing. In 1995 Hispanics were 1 percent of UNC's student body. That doubled to 2 percent in 2004.