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At MSU, fewer hispanics than U.S. average

September 12, 2012

For first-generation college student Luis Miguel Zarco, the transition to college was anything but easy.

Although he is now thriving, Zarco said he felt like an “outsider” when he first came to the university.

But Zarco is not alone.

According to the Office of the Registrar’s spring 2012 enrollment data, the communication senior is one of 1,535 Hispanic students at MSU who might come across similar difficulties when transitioning to a college setting.

Hispanic American students account for only about 3 percent of the student population at MSU — a different story than that of the national number.

According to Pew Research Center, in the U.S., Hispanic Americans compose the largest minority group of students between 18 and 24 years old enrolled in four-year colleges in 2011, topping off the year with a record number of 2.1 million students enrolled.

Despite national trends, at MSU, the number of Hispanic students is the third-largest minority, behind African Americans and Asian Americans.

Juan Flores, coordinator at the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions, said from personal experience and from working with students, there might be multiple reasons enrollment numbers are up nationally but not keeping the same pace locally.

Flores said Michigan does not have as large of a Hispanic population compared to other parts of the country; students usually are coming from a close-knit community, and Hispanic students might not be receiving the necessary college preparatory education.

“They come from usually an environment where they are comfortable and they have everything they need,” Flores said. “When they come to MSU — a completely new place (and) new environment — it’s a little harder for them to transition and get their bearings right from the start.”

Zarco, who also is co-president of Culturas de las Razas Unidas, or CRU, agreed with Flores. He said other explanations include facing the financial burden of paying for college, which for many Hispanic Americans is out of the question, and experiencing a lack of support or knowledge from family members when transitioning.

“It’s a lot harder for first-generation students to go to college,” Zarco said. “All I heard from my parents was, ‘I want you to finish high school so you don’t have to work as hard as I do.’”
Zarco said he, like many other Hispanic and Latin American students, did not know college was attainable until he had someone, such as a mentor, counselor or teacher, step in to show him it was possible.

Flores, adviser to CRU, is one of these mentors and said he often sees this happen among students at MSU — possible reasons explaining why MSU’s enrollment numbers are lower than the nation’s.
He also said students can be guilt-tripped by family members for leaving home.

“It breaks my heart when their families are saying come back home, and a lot of times, they call (their) mom or dad and they say, ‘I’m struggling in a class’ or ‘I’m homesick’ and instead of feeling support, they (hear), ‘Well, I told you not to go,’” Flores said.

Sociology professor Rubén Martinez said the Latino population is the fastest-growing population in the country, so the national statistic makes sense. But if one were to compare the percentage of the Hispanic population to percentages of other minority groups, the piece of data would not be as impressive, Martinez said.

“Very limited gains have been made over the years, relative to other groups,” Martinez said.
“So if you look at whites, Asians, (blacks) and what percentage of college kids (are enrolled), there have not been major gains made.”

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