A Model for Increasing Hispanic Student

Involvement in U.S. Campuses


Jairo N. Fuertes, Mary Cothran,

William E. Sedlacek


Research Report #13-91


This study was sponsored and partly conducted by the Counseling` Center and the Office of Minority Student Education at the University of Maryland, College Park.








Jairo N. Fuertes, Mary Cothran, and William E. Sedlacek


Research Report #13-91




The model presented is based on research results which suggest that some Hispanics at predominantly White universities (e.g. second generation students) are active in school and find themselves in the mainstream of campus life (Fuertes & Sedlacek, 1990), while other Hispanic students have more difficulty integrating themselves in college. With the increasing number of Hispanic students attending college (Evangelauf, 1988), it has become more important to encourage their involvement on campus. The proposed model attempts to reduce the size of the campus for Hispanic students and to increase their sense of belonging in it. The goals of the model are increased retention and development of Hispanic students. The model increases student participation in four areas: in a campus-wide Hispanic group, in Hispanic preprofessional societies, enrollment in a student development course, and participation in a mentoring program.

Campus activity has long been recognized as a vehicle for promoting student development (Astin, 1975). Tracey and Sedlacek (1987) have shown that minority students who are active in campus life are most likely to persist in college and graduate. The purpose of this paper is to present a model for increasing the level of campus participation of Hispanic students. The proposed model has been and continues to be implemented at a predominantly White university. It is based on research which suggests that highly acculturated Hispanics (e.g. second generation students) find themselves in the mainstream of campus life, even at predominantly White universities (Fuertes & Sedlacek, 1990), whereas Hispanics who are not well acculturated to the U.S. (e.g. first generation students) have more difficulty integrating themselves or assimilating in school.


Hispanic student enrollment in higher education increased by 63% between 1976 and 1986, compared with a 9% increase during the same time period for White students (Evangelauf, 1988). However, their growth in numbers has not translated into increased visibility of Hispanic students or Hispanic culture on U.S. campuses (Valverde, 1988). Hispanics students have reported feeling socially isolated and culturally alienated in U.S. colleges (Garza & Nelson 1973; Hunt 1975; Lyon 1973). Hispanic students have also expressed ambiguity about joining organizations in college and wonder about the importance and benefits of campus involvement (Fuertes, Sedlacek, & Westbrook, 1989).



Within group differences in attitudes toward campus involvement have been documented among Hispanics. For example, Fuertes, Sedlacek, and Westbrook (1989) found that male Hispanic students living off campus were less likely to be involved in campus groups than females, and tended to rely on family for support. Females living on campus were most likely to be involved in activities in college and tended to feel most strongly that campus involvement was important. Hispanic students who showed higher levels of acculturation (i.e., students who were well acquainted with the norms, values, and codes of behavior of Whites) tended to join non-Hispanic groups more frequently than Hispanic groups, and reported having mostly non-Hispanic friends. Essentially, acculturation to the U.S. influences a student's attitude toward campus involvement and his/her subsequent participation in school activities.


While some Hispanic students do not report special problems in higher education (Salazar, 1990), others report having experienced micro-inequities and other forms of discrimination in college (Fields, 1987; Garza & Nelson, 1973; Valverde, 1988). The proposed model attempts to do two things: (1) reduce the size of the campus for students and (2) provide students with a sense of community and belongingness. The goals of the model are: better retention of Hispanic students, and social development via interaction and affiliation with classmates. The following assumptions weremade in developing the model: (a) Hispanic students who are not well



acculturated to the U. S. tend to avoid participating in non­Hispanic groups, (b) Hispanic students are not involved in campus activities because often there are no Hispanic groups for them to join, (c) the model was conceptualized for implementation at a predominantly White campus, where Hispanics are a minority and often do not benefit from campus interventions (such as summer orientations), and (d) Most importantly, it was assumed by the authors that universities who adopt the model are genuinely concerned with the retention and development of Hispanic students.


The proposed model focuses on four areas: organization of social/cultural groups, organization of pre-professional societies by college or major, a student development course, and a mentoring program.


Organization of Social/Cultural Groups


Students often join groups because they identify with the group's image, goals, objectives, and members. Basic person-­environment theory suggests that members of groups attract others like them and discourage those who are different (Schneider, 1987) . Fuertes, Sedlacek, and Westbrook (1989) found that Hispanics who avoided Anglo or non-Hispanic groups tended to socialize mainly with Hispanics on campus. .They were not involved in Hispanic groups on campus simply because there were none to join. At the institution in which this model was implemented, the formation of



a Hispanic Student Union (H.S.U.) has attracted over 150 members (20% of the Hispanic population on campus) over a two year period. In 1990 the group operated on a nominal budget of $3, 400 partly financed by the Student Government Association on campus and community contributions.


This group has been active throughout the school year in promoting social and cultural events for the entire university community. For example, during Hispanic Heritage Month, the H.S.U. organized cultural fairs and lectures which highlighted Hispanic culture. The H.S.U. also publishes "La Voz Latina", a campus newspaper for and about Hispanics.


Since it is difficult to measure the contribution of different factors to student retention, it is hard to estimate the effect of the H.S.U. and its activities on Hispanic student retention. However, it seems reasonable to assume that the sense of community which the H.S.U. provides to students at such a large institution, has contributed to the decline in Hispanic student attrition. University records indicate a decrease in Hispanic student attrition by 7% in the two years since the H.S.U. has been active.Developmentally, the students are learning to organize and influence others, key skills to leadership development. Participation in the H.S.U. seems to provide students with a sense of representation and affiliation, which encourages them to achieve academically and persist in school.



Organization of Pre-professional Societies


Pre-professional societies have been organized by major. Pre­professional societies give students in specific areas of study an opportunity to form study groups, enroll en masse in classes, provide tutoring, bring speakers and lecturers to campus, etc. These societies reduce the size of the campus for students, and create a cooperative yet competitive environment in which students are motivated to excel.--Students have begun to seek internship experiences, major-related part-time work, volunteer experiences, and other experiential learning opportunities which prepare them for work after graduation. For example, a pre-professional society for Hispanics in engineering brought a prominent Hispanic speaker on campus to speak about job opportunities in the engineering fields. He was so well received on campus that he established a


scholarship for a deserving Hispanic student in engineering.


Student Development Course


A course which reviewed basic study skills and habits and also assessed student interest in careers was developed by the minority student office on campus. The course is not mandatory at the institution, but has been approved by the College of Education to be offered for one credit to Hispanic and African-American students. The class reviews page reading, note taking, and time management skills. The course also offers career interest



assessment, and group discussions on issues/problems Hispanics often face when they enter college. (e.g. racism, cultural alienation, separation from family, etc.)


Mentoring Program


      Every incoming Hispanic student is assigned a faculty or staff

member as a mentor. The mentoring program is coordinated by the

staff of the minority student office on campus. The only instructions given to the mentors are to make contact with the student and let them know they are there to help them. Our mentors



are all Hispanic, most are bilingual, and all understand Hispanic culture and Hispanic students' concerns. A pilot study of the mentoring program with academically unsuccessful Hispanic students revealed that of 38 students who had G.P.A.'s lower than 2.0, 32 raised their G.P.A.'s above 2.0 after one semester of work with their mentor. Even though other mentoring programs are offered at this institution, it is estimated that only a small percentage of highly motivated, highly acculturated Hispanic students participate in them.


This model is proposed so that Hispanic student involvement in U.S. campuses is increased. Student affairs professionals should also encourage Hispanic student participation in traditional groups, such as fraternities, sororities, and the student government association.





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