Today, she’d be happy to tell the naysayers how very wrong they were.
The college junior is busy pursuing a communications degree with a concentration in public relations and a minor in Spanish at Georgian Court University of Lakewood, N.J. A leader on campus, Ramirez juggles a busy schedule that includes student government appointments, Dance Theatre Club practices, and Mercy Collegiate Society meetings
“I didn’t have good grades in high school and had a counselor but she wasn’t as involved as she should have been. There were 900 students in my grade, and because I wasn’t an ‘A’ student, I felt like I was just disregarded,” Ramirez recalls. “Some Latino students come from low-income homes or live in bad areas, but that doesn’t mean they are bad kids.”
Ramirez says she didn’t received the information she needed about college and was clueless about the opportunities for SAT preparation courses and financial aid. But Ramirez’ older sister and mother believed in her abilities and pushed her to pursue college. After Ramirez arrived at Georgian Court, her first-year seminar teacher and other faculty and staff members became involved in her education.
“They told me that I was talented, and their encouragement and support made me get involved in college,” Ramirez said. “Having a support system is an essential part of succeeding and growing as an individual.”
HISPANIC ENROLLMENT RISES
Despite obstacles, more Hispanic students like Ramirez are enrolling in college than ever before. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of Latino students enrolled in college in 2010 increased by 24 percent from the last year.
“Our admission is based on the student meeting the GPA and ACT/SAT requirements, which in turn gives greater access to any student,” Vazquez says.
Maria Rodriguez, a counselor with the Talent Search program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, N.J., sees the trend. The federally funded program aims to provide academic and practical support to students who are low-income or would be the first in their family to attend college.
“Currently, most institutions are looking at the applicant’s file holistically and considering the student’s academics, test scores student involvement, personal statement, and recommendation letters. Factors such as being a first-generation student can be included in this overview,” Rodriguez says.
In the past, Rodriguez worked for Passaic County Community College and the University of Florida as a admission recruiter. In Rodriguez’ opinion, race and ethnicity played some role in the application process before affirmative action was eliminated from most institutions. The change created new challenges.
“You may have a high-performing student whose GPA and test scores may be considered average, but in the school district that he or she may be coming from, that student may be exceptional,” Rodriguez says. “Most-of not all-higher education institutions are moving away from affirmative action because they want to make the admissions process universal for all students. However, not all school district are universal or offer the same opportunities.”
Today, being Hispanic may give a student access to scholarship programs that have less competition, Rodriguez says.
“General scholarships that are open to any student attract hundreds of thousands of applicants with similar qualifications. Scholarship targeted to the Hispanic community make the applicant pool much smaller, lowering the competition,” she says.
Antonio R. Flores, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), says that HACU member institutions have also experienced a growth in Latino enrollment.
HIGHEST HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT RATE
Despite increased college enrollment, Latinos have the lowest education attainment level of any minority group in the country. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that Hispanics have the highest high school dropout rate-17.6 percent. According to a 2011 White House report, 13 percent of Latinos have a bachelor’s degree and only 4 percent have completed graduate or professional degree programs.
Berenice Bonilla, manager of the National Council of La Raza’s Lideres initiative, says many Hispanic students don’t have the educational support system needed to be successful through the admissions process. While many scholarships are available, the submission process often requires assistance from parents, mentors, or counselors.
“Oftentimes, Latino students are helping their parents to provide for the home through after-school work or are caring for siblings,” Bonilla says. “There are other pressing priorities for many Latino families today, and they may not be able to devote the time that’s necessary to participate in the competitive process, including looking for scholarships, applying for financial aid, applying for college.
What’s more, those Latino students who are enrolled in college don’t always graduate, says Lizette Valarino founder of the Hispanic Heritage Scholarship Fund of Metro Orlando in Orlando, Fla.
The percentage of Latinos enrolled in college who graduate is 19.2 percent, well below the national average of 41.1 percent, according to the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center. “Finances appear to be the main reason for this trend,” says Valarino, whose fund has provided 174 scholarships for a total of more than $630,000 since its inception.
Students who think that being Hispanic will help with college acceptance are probably mistaken, Valarino says.
“The policies set for admission of students in state college are said to favor minorities, but I don’t have evidence or documentation to substantiate that claim,” she says. “The students that I have seen in our program demonstrate exceptional academic skills and leadership qualities, which lead me to believe they are selected for admission based on their qualities, and not their ethnicity.”
A ROLE MODEL
Consider Raquel Velez, who graduated from the University of California Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2007.
“I consider myself a smart woman who happens to be Hispanic, not a Hispanic who happens to be smart,” says Velez, whose parents encouraged her to plan for college as a child. She began looking at colleges while still in middle school.
“While I’m sure that there are-and always will be-colleges that have…quotas, the top school are more concerned with having a balanced community,” Velez says. “A community whose members and ideas is stronger than a community whole members all come from the same background.”
As chief technology officer of Escuchame, a website aimed at changing how the world views Latinas, Velez assembled a list of some 350 scholarships, totaling more than $1.5 million, available for download at escuchame.org/register.
She was amazed at the number of the scholarships that are available to Hispanic students. “There is money out there. You just have to go out and ask for it!” Velez says.
Ashley Cisneros is a co-founder of Chatter Buzz Media, an Orlando Internet marketing firm that helps companies and organizations engage with their target markets through inbound marketing via the Internet. Chatter Buzz Media, which won the Social Madness competition for the Orlando small business market, is a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in website design, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing and content creation. Prior to founding Chatter Buzz, Ashley worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, technical writer, marketing manager, public relations practitioner and freelance journalist. To see Ashley’s content writing, visit www.ashleycisneros.com. You can also reach Ashley on her Google profile.