• by Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D. and Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • January 2002 • Dr. Abelardo VillarrealRosana Rodriguez

The 2000 Census tells us that the U.S. Latino population is larger than the entire population of Canada and equal to the combined population of 22 U.S. states. One-third of Latinos are under age 18, and half are under 26 (Geary, 2001).

This is an enormous opportunity for educators, parents and communities to target Latino success in education as a high-priority concern. With significant growth anticipated in Latino student numbers in all areas of the United States, it is imperative for us to harness the enormous intellectual, economic, spiritual and human resource this population represents to our nation.

Institutions must focus on the practices and policies that either facilitate or impede access to higher education for this group and take action accordingly.

This is the third in a series of articles in the IDRA Newsletter aimed at raising awareness of institutional responsibilities to engage families and communities in efforts that create positive educational environments for a diverse student population. This article provides insights on practices and policies that open access to higher education, especially for Latino students, in kindergarten through college graduation (K-16).

Successful transformations in practice and policy begin by taking stock of the assets that nourish Latino student success in schools, universities and communities. These assets include compassionate and caring teachers, schools and institutions that value the impact of diversity, and communities that articulate high expectations to their students.

Each system has unique strengths in supporting students through the educational pipeline. The individual or collective practices of school systems and communities can create a web of support for students entering into and completing higher education. With a Latino majority existing or emerging in many K-12 systems throughout the country, there are a host of pending related policy proposals and practices that are critical to the success and life opportunities for Latino students.

Hispanics currently make up 14.5 percent or 3.6 million of the total traditional college-age population. By the year 2025, Latinos will make up 22 percent of the college-age population. Because of their location in the community, affordability, and flexibility in offering courses, community colleges enroll about half of Hispanic students in undergraduate education.

Just over half of all Hispanic students enrolled in higher education are in California and Texas. Almost three-fourths of Hispanic students enrolled in higher education are in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas.

During a dialogue with K-12 educators and university administrators in Santa Ana, California about issues of Latino access and admissions to higher education, leaders explored practices and key policies that have been barriers to Latino success in higher education. The thought-provoking discussion addressed contextual and process factors that affect access to quality services for Latino students.

This article describes these factors. This discussion is germane to other settings in the United States and could provide some important insights that can serve as a backdrop to formulate plans and be used to inform a blueprint for change.

Teacher Preparation and Development

Teacher preparation should advocate equity and excellence to serve a changing student body.

Universities can call on the cultural and linguistic assets of the community to enrich and expand existing curricula for teacher preparation.

The importance of pro-active inclusion of parents in the learning process should be stressed throughout the internship period.

There is a critical shortage of Latino teachers in many urban and rural areas. Early teacher education recruitment can be effective at middle school or earlier, offering opportunities for young people to obtain financial aide and create student success and placement agreements.

School and University Partnerships

Excellent education is a seamless process that extends from early elementary through higher education. Currently, higher education institutions are set up as separate entities that seldom communicate or coordinate student support efforts.

Ideally, accountability is shared by education partnerships that include schools, universities, community colleges and families. These partnerships can result in greater articulation and alignment of curriculum at local, regional and state levels.

Creating a seamless web of support for students requires collaboration with advocacy groups and other community-based organizations that support families and student success.

An emphasis in all grades of a continuous educational pipeline and into lifelong learning is indispensable. The appropriate and frequent question for students and their parents should change from “Are you going to college?” to “Where are you going to college?” and “Do you know the path, are you on that path, and what support is needed to stay on that path?”

Aggressive and Focused Outreach

Effective higher education outreach is culturally sensitive. It recognizes and is responsive to the needs of the constituents to be served. One example is to pay special attention to the proximity of the community college or university to geographic accessibility for students and families.

Other examples include having open accessibility for part-time as well as full-time enrollment; a community service orientation that describes opportunities for community members to serve as resources for the university; and campus days for parents and families of elementary, middle and high school students that can be effective in demystifying the goal of higher education.

Aggressive Retention Strategies

Campuses need to address retention strategies in addition to recruitment. They must provide ongoing academic, financial and social support for students. This support includes availability of non-credit centers that can offer skill sets that students will need in order to succeed in college, including strengthening basic and study skills.

Attention should also be given to creating an active climate within the campus that supports student groups and activities, such as mentoring, learning communities, and service learning.

A key component for improving persistence rates involves having sufficient numbers of adequately prepared counselors at the high school and community college levels who participate in a coordinated system of student support.

Diversity at All Levels

For optimal learning, students need to see a reflection of the community in the role models of their teachers and professors throughout the educational pipeline. The presence and valuing of diversity enriches the quality of life for the campus and the learning experience as a whole. For a more equitable system it is paramount to appoint regents who reflect diversity, especially of the population in the states they serve.

Student Financial Support

Quality programs that offer access and equity are mindful of the availability of student financial support. Schools can help to demystify the process of higher education through aggressive outreach campaigns to offer information and assistance to parents and students about the requirements and application processes for financial support. Critical information should be distributed early to parents of elementary and secondary school students so that families can make long-range, realistic plans.

Early Assessment and Support

Students benefit from comprehensive assessment that identifies potential areas for support early in their college careers. Targeted recruitment of students by colleges can offer support for students who may need remedial help in key areas such as writing and composition and in higher-order thinking skills in critical academic areas such as English and math.

Partnerships with K-12 school programs can promote extensive summer in-service education for students prior to entering and during the early college years, especially in mathematics and the use of technology.

Clearly-Articulated and Student-Focused Mission

A commitment to diversity at both the student and faculty levels will herald the climate for a transformative environment. A clearly-articulated mission provides the context for clear, systemwide goals and shared accountability for increasing outcomes in the number of student transfers and associate, vocational, undergraduate and post-graduate degrees.

Comprehensive Impact Strategies

Any initiative to improve educational opportunities for Latino students should include rigorous programs for evaluation, communication and dissemination of results to a broader range of stakeholders, including businesses, families and community members. These impact strategies must incorporate a plan for sustainability of support for student success long-term and provide for interconnectedness of every element of the pre-kindergarten through sixth grade system.

An effective marketing and communication strategy engages the broader public and connects the media to stories of young students and back again to the public to gain broader support, shared decision making and accountability.

Clearly-Articulated Pathways to College

A comprehensive plan for improving access, persistence and graduation rates for Latino students includes K-12 and community college-prep standards and systems alignment. A commitment to an equitable path for all students includes listing courses and grades needed, in the early grades, for parents and students to better understand and prepare for the road to college. Other strategies for clearing the path to college are dual admissions programs that include counseling and support components.

Policies as the Gatekeepers to Student Success

A comprehensive review of practices and policies that support or impede student success is key to transformation. Areas of policy that need to be assessed include outreach strategies, assessment and placement practices, curricular and instructional requirements, and access and graduation. Examples include the unique needs of Latino immigrant students and families, who because of prohibitive legislation and practices in some states, must pay foreign student fees or out-of-state immigrant fees, instead of local in-state fees, for college participation.


The bottom line is that the success of students throughout the educational pipeline is a shared responsibility of all: parents, the community, pre-kindergarten through higher education, business and support groups, and local, state and federal government. The time for blaming one segment of the educational pipeline, a segment of the community, parents, or government for low educational achievement is over.

We must enter into a new age of inter-connectedness that leaves no sector behind in supporting young people’s success and in taking up the responsibility and accountability to see that K-16 education is realizable for all students.


Geary, D.L. “The PR Implications of Census 2000,” The Public Relations Strategist (New York, NY: Public Relations Society of America, Fall 2001).

President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. Creating the Will: Hispanics Achieving Educational Excellence (Washington, D.C.: White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, September 2000).

Rodríguez, R.G., and A. Villarreal. “Transformative Leadership in Latino Communities: A Critical Element in Successful and Sustainable Educational Change,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, June-July 2001).

Rodríguez, R.G., and A. Villarreal. “Partnerships Facilitate Educational Access and Opportunity for Latino Youth,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2000).

Rosana Rodríguez, Ph.D., is the director of the IDRA Division of Community and Public Engagement. Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., is the director of the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2002, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2002 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]