Central Oregon Community College has seen a 91 percent increase in Latino enrollment from 2007.
The Latino student body is still relatively small, with 766 students out of 18,433 total enrolled students in 2010-11.The ratio of Latino enrollment to other minorities and whites, however, has increased on the side of Latino students.
In 2007 there were 399 Latino students at COCC, compared to 2011-2012 when that number reached 766, according to the Multicultural Center.
This increase has been years in the making, according to Karen Roth, the Director of Multicultural Activities at COCC.
“The population in Central Oregon has increased overall in the past years, so COCC is just seeing the benefits of that,” said Roth. “COCC has always been interested in recruiting the Latino community but in the past years we have been able to enhance that.”
In an effort to keep up with and support this increase, three years ago COCC created a position for a Latino Program Coordinator, a position now filled by Evelia Sandoval.
As the Latino Program Coordinator, Sandoval offers one on one support and advising for Latino students at COCC. In addition, Sandoval is the advisor for the Latino club and the teacher of a combined college success and writing class for Latino students. This class functions to help Latino students become more comfortable at COCC by giving them skills and resources early in their college experience.
“We want the students to feel welcome and by giving them one on one and specific support, I feel we are achieving that,” said Sandoval. “Our goal is first to recruit students and then most importantly to retain them.”
In summer 2012 COCC also hired Willan Cervantes as the Latino College Preparation Outreach Coordinator. The college created this position after doing a strategic enrollment study that showed the potential for an enrollment increase in this group.
Cervantes talks to potential students and their families to help guide them to see higher education as something attainable.
“By reaching Latino students early in their education, COCC hopes to empower students to view education as a possibility,” said Cervantes. “We hope that by reaching out and talking to Latino high school students…that will prepare and encourage them to see college as the strongest alternative.”
Cervantes hopes to recruit Latino high school students by instituting a curriculum that would have leadership training, cultural components, and college preparation.
“This would be something that could be done as an after-school activity once a week and would include the tri-county area,” said Cervantes.
As the overall Latino enrollment increased, so did the degree and certificate completion rate for Latino students. In the last four years the certificate completion rate for Latino students increased by 145 percent, while the overall certificate completion rate increased by 104 percent, according to the Multicultural Center.
“What we really mean by retaining students is the completion rate or the amount of students completing their educational goals,” said Roth. “For students to succeed they need to feel comfortable on campus…hopefully then they will view COCC as welcoming and inclusive.”
It is crucial for student success that students know what resources are available and that they utilize those resources, as well as having a good support system, according to Roth.
“The current Latino students at COCC should know that we have resources and support available for them,” said Roth. “We care about success, so if students let us know… we can offer that support that is crucial for success.”
Other underrepresented groups have also seen a dramatic enrollment increase. Native American student enrollment grew by 37 percent in the past four years and the certificate completion rate for Native American students increased by 130 percent, according to Roth.
By honoring cultural holidays, and having clubs where students can come together helps students who may not feel at home at COCC more comfortable, according to Cervantes.
“We try to make students welcome by having culturally respective staff that encourages student success,” said Cervantes.
Though it’s hard to know for certain if the trend in Latino enrollment growth will continue, Sandoval expects it will as long as the Latino population in Central Oregon continues to increase.
“The Latino community in Central Oregon is increasing, so the Latino community at COCC should continue to steadily increase for the next years,” said Sandoval.
Molly Svendsen | The Broadside