Graduate students working to increase Latino retention rates at Parkland
Enrollment of new students is high on Parkland College’s priority list. Parkland is even more pre-occupied with making sure that enrolled students keep coming back each semester to complete their educational programs and a number of measures have been taken by administration to address this issue.
One such measure was to hire Moises Orozco, a graduate student in Education Policy at the University of Illinois, to work on a Latino student retention program. A sizeable portion of Parkland’s student population consists of Latino students and Moises is responsible for working with these students to improve their retention rates.
“The job posting fit in nicely with my professional and academic background,” Orozco commented. “Helping Latino students be successful was where I saw myself in the future.”
The program has been a three year effort by the Parkland Academy Team. They were successful in securing an Ideas grant to keep the program running and increase its reach. Orozco was hired toward the end of spring semester in 2014 to oversee the program and to make sure that its objectives were being achieved.
Another grad student from UIUC, whose field of study is also Education Policy, Eduardo Coronel, got hired on two months after Orozco. Since then, the two have been researching patterns in Latino student enrollment.
“The main focus of our work is to increase semester to semester persistence of Latino students,” Coronel said.
During the summer of 2014, when new students were attending SOAR, Orozco and Coronel reached out to 125 self-identified Latino students and invited them to be a part of their program. They sent out e-mails, made phone calls, sent hard copy mails and even visited some in person. Out of those 125, 65 students got back in touch with them and actively participated in the program. At the end of fall semester 2014, 59 out of the original 65 students successfully completed their courses.
This provided an extremely positive statistic for Orozco and Coronel’s research, as 90% of their participants had been successful. The start of the 2015 spring semester saw the return of 51 out of the remaining 59 students. At that point, the efforts made by these two grad students yielded a persistence rate of 86%.
The Latino students who didn’t persist from fall to spring semester were personally contacted by either Orozco or Coronel. Some of the main reasons why these students couldn’t return to school included family responsibilities. Many of them were trying to balance working 30 or more hours with a full time school load and just couldn’t keep doing both.
According to Orozco and Coronel, their work was motivated by the desire to find out more about what factors influenced a student’s choice to pursue a college education. What they discovered led them to the conclusion that non-academic reasons play a major role in decreasing persistence rates for most of these students. The Latino population has a remarkable work ethic, and if they could be convinced to apply that same ethic towards achieving a college education, then no doubt they would be successful.
According to Orozco, when it comes to determining ways to keep students enrolled from one semester to the next, they have to connect with them on a personal level. There are so many factors involved beyond academics. Work life, housing, paying for college, adjusting to a different life and finding a place to fit in are all important factors. Family also plays a key role in Latino students’ lives, as many of these students are first generation college students trying to set an example for their younger siblings.
Coronel also commented that, for a program like this to work, it is important to understand that Latino population is not a homogenous group and there is a lot of diversity. Even though many people identify themselves as being Latino, they may have different ethnic backgrounds and cultural values.
“Knowing and understanding the difference within is important when you are trying to address certain aspects of transition to college and depending on each student’s individual experiences. The type of assistance they need may also differ,” Coronel provided.
It is important to make students feel connected. The more they see themselves as a part of community, the longer they’ll want to stay. In addition to academics and easily accessible campus resources, peer networks, social networks and a supportive family are also important.
“We try to let students know that there is someone on their side who will advocate for them and be there to help when they need it,” Orozco elaborated.
Recently, Orozco and Coronel presented their research and stats to the Parkland Board of Trustees and to the Board of Directors. Their remarkable success and in depth analysis of factors that govern Latino students’ lives really astonished the board members.
Less than a year’s worth of research has proven how much informal bonds, and connecting to a student on a personal level that goes beyond academics, can mean in terms of persistence and retention. Director of Student Life Dr. Thomas Caulfield explained that Parkland hopes to eventually widen such programs and bring all Parkland students into the fold, thus giving each and every person the support and encouragement they need to complete their college degrees.
Students wanting to know more about the work done by Orozco and Coronel can reach them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their office is located in Student Life and they can often be found around the Parkland corridors talking to students and offering support and encouragement to all who need it.