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Order aims to reduce education gap

October 26, 2010

A first-generation college student and mother of a 2-year-old son, Lupe Dominguez is looking to graduate with two degrees this spring, and she did it all without the help of either of her parents.

Dominguez, a public administration and public policy and history senior of a Mexican heritage, was determined to succeed even after losing her mother at the age of 10 and growing up without a father in the picture.

“I pushed myself because I wanted to graduate and because I wanted a future for myself,” she said.

But for every Hispanic student with Dominguez’s success, there are many more stuggles to overcome higher education barriers to obtain a degree.

To address the needs of the fastest growing minority population, President Barack Obama signed an executive order last week to enhance the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, seeking to revitalize the existing office.

More than 52 million Hispanics now live in the U.S., and only 12 percent of those 52 million hold bachelor’s degrees, according to a report released by the White House in conjunction with the executive order.

Recent reports by the American Council on Education focus on Hispanics as well, citing them as exhibiting the lowest educational attainment levels of any ethnic population, at a 70 percent college completion rate.

Challenges Hispanic students face at MSU and elsewhere depend on the institution and each student’s background, said Rubén Martinez, director for the Julian Samora Research Institute at MSU.

“MSU is a predominantly white institution,” Martinez said. “That means the institution doesn’t always understand (the needs of Hispanic students). There’s a misalignment between what the students are bringing to the campus in terms of background and experience and what the institution has and how it aligns with those needs.”

A lot of Hispanic students are first-generation students like Dominguez, or are transfers from community colleges making completion inherently more difficult, Martinez said. Understanding students’ backgrounds is one of the key components to success, he said.

“Right now, because of the demographic shift taking place, the education of Latino students across the country is one of the most important challenges facing the country,” he said.

“I think MSU is probably on the lower end of the continuum in terms of developing the capacity to address the needs of Latino students.”

The Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions, or OCAT, works to help students of all backgrounds learn cultural competency through programming and cultural aides, said Juan Flores, a coordinator with OCAT.

“A lot of Hispanic students come to a big university where they don’t see students like themselves,” he said. “And it’s hard on them.”

Some students, such as those who are a part of the College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP, come from impoverished backgrounds and face
numerous barriers, said Raul “Rudy” Ramos, the associate director of the MSU chapter of CAMP.

Coming from a migrant family himself, Ramos said for many students in the program, earning a college degree means helping their family out of a poverty cycle. CAMP students graduate at a rate of about 72 percent, Ramos said.

“A majority of students are first-generation college students from low-income families who make $20,000 to 25,000 a year for a family of five,” he said.

“These students are hardworking, dedicated and have a real passion for continuing their education.”

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