When Carmen Cid attended New York University in the 1970s, she recalls the enrollment was diverse, but not among the professors, especially in the field she was pursuing, a biology degree. There were no other Latinas to inspire and validate her choice of major.
While Cid, the daughter of a businessman and a music teacher who had immigrated to the U.S., was hard-pressed to find Latino role models as an undergraduate, she did encounter a sympathetic mentor who had been to Chile and seen women work in scientific research. So armed with a pair of waders for field work, she got her bachelor’s degree and headed to Michigan State University where she earned a master’s degree and then a doctorate in plant ecology.
Today, she is Dr. Cid and is Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Eastern Connecticut State University and a mentor and role model to the school’s growing Hispanic enrollment.
Eastern Connecticut State University
Higher education leaders, such as Dr. Cid and Eastern’s Latina President Dr. Elsa Nunez, recognize that keeping Latinos on the degree path involves more than changing statistics. It also is important to create a welcoming and nurturing environment, especially for students, especially those from less advantaged urban backgrounds and often the first members of a family to attend college, who historically have been under-represented on campuses.
The availability of school faculty and administrators, who intuitively understand the issues many Latinos face and contribute to above average non-graduation rate, is crucial, educators say, to assist this growing population’s ability to move into careers vital to the nation’s future and to fulfill their leadership potential.
It does take a village to help these students to succeed, according to Dr. Cid. “Eastern is a village,” she said.
In her thirty years at Eastern, Dr. Cid has seen dramatic changes. The university, which is located in the middle of a mostly white rural area, except for Willimantic, now has more than 28 percent of its students from under-served minority groups, Cid said. Many are Hispanic, but an exact number is difficult to pin down, the dean said, because some come from multi-racial backgrounds and may not identify themselves as Hispanic.
There also has been a considerable shift in the profile of the school’s faculty. When Dr. Cid arrived, the few Latinos in Eastern’s workforce were mostly found outside the classroom, she recalled. However, the school has “gone out of its way” to recruit faculty members who can connect with the school’s increasingly minority student population, she said.
Today, the school has a president and two deans, as well as fourteen members, or seven percent, of its full-time faculty, who are Latinos, as are 12, or 4 percent, of the part-time teaching staff.
Eastern has developed the most diverse faculty among Connecticut colleges, said Dr. Estella Lopez, a member of the state Board of Education since 2011. “This is very intentional and achieved over time, she said.
In addition, among public universities and colleges, Eastern Connecticut State has gained national recognition for its efforts to retain and graduate Hispanic students. Farias considers Dr. Nunez as a mentor.
In 2012, the Education Trust, a national education advocacy group, ranked Eastern number one nationally for its improvement of its six-year graduation rates of Hispanic students. For the university’s class of full-time, first-time Hispanic students entering in fall 1998, the rate was barely 20 percent, but for those entering in 2004, 57.8 percent had graduated, a proportion that exceeded the school’s overall graduation rate.
The meshing of a diverse enrollment with a representative faculty also has moved forward at Wesleyan, one of the nation’s elite private institution. The school’s incoming Class of 2021 was projected at 13 percent Latino, a 30 percent increase over four years earlier, according to the school’s website. Moreover, 38 percent of those admitted this year are “students of color” and 15 percent are the first of their family to attend college.
In addition, Latinos now comprise about seven percent of Wesleyan’s faculty and this representation is likely to increase due to a hiring processes with checks and reports at each stage to make sure minorities are being considered.
Wesleyan President Michael Roth also is committed to improving the retention of “first generation” students by showing them they “belong here” and this includes having faculty “who talk like you and eat like you,” said Farias, who noted the school’s retention rate is “94 percent across the board.”
Even a small gesture such as being invited to share of a traditional Hispanic meal at a professor’s home, can dispel a sense of isolation and enhance the success of Latino students, said Antonio Farias, director of inclusion and diversity at Wesleyan University in Middletown.
At Wesleyan, Farias is one of three Latinos on Roth’s ten-member administrative cabinet. There also are two Asians. “This diversity has an impact on how we make decisions,” Farias said.
Farias also stresses that bringing about meaningful change in faculty diversity is more than a matter of numbers. “You can’t have a revolving door” to meet statistical goals, Farias said. “You need to bring in values and talent,” he said. In recent years Wesleyan has been making changes in its culture and climate so that when the school brings in a more racially diverse educators they don’t leave after a couple of years, he said.
A major concern, Farias, said is that if minority students feel alienated they may not only not graduate, but they also will not thoroughly experience all that a college like Wesleyan offers To allow this to happen, not only fails the student but has a negative impact on the university’s mission of creating graduates who can be leaders in the 21st century, he said, people who are “nimble and possess a cosmopolitan world view.”
Nationally, the disparity between Latino enrollment and faculty is more pronounced. Latino enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities has doubled since 2000 and exceeds 3 million students with the expectation that this growth will continue to outpace that of other minorities. Meanwhile, despite a gain in absolute numbers, Latinos comprise less than about 4 percent of all full-time faculty at post-secondary institutions and three percent of full professors, according to a 2017 U.S. Dept. of Education report.
As of 2014, among Hispanics ages 25 to 29, just 15 percent of Hispanics had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to about 41 percent of whites, 22 percent of blacks and 63 percent of Asians, according to the Pew Research Center. This gap is due in part to the fact that Hispanics are less likely to attend an academically selective college full-time, Pew concluded.
Moreover, only 35.6 percent of Hispanic students in the U.S., compared to 43.4 percent of whites, complete degrees at the higher education institutions where they started and only 45.8 percent completed a degree within six years, compared to 62 percent of whites, according to a 2016 study by the National Clearinghouse of Education Statistics.
The mission of closing the disparity between Latino students and faculty has been complicated by the malady that it is trying to cure. A lower graduation rate means fewer students obtaining graduate degrees, which are a pre-requisite for academic posts in higher education.
From 2003 to 2012, the number of masters degrees earned by Latinos increased 103 percent but comprised only 7 percent of all master’s degrees, according to Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit organization that studies how Latinos perform in school. One limiting factor is the heightened expectation among students from under-represented groups to find jobs rather than pursue the advanced degrees.
Moreover, Latinos have tended to be concentrated in certain fields. For example, Excelencia in Education found that more Hispanic students receive a master’s in education than any other graduate degree.
At the doctoral level, Hispanics comprised a sixth of the U.S. population but held only 5 percent of these advanced degrees in 2012. This group has increased 67 percent from 2003, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education, with most in legal, 39 percent and health, 32 percent.
There also is a significant gender gap in Latino academic achievement. The U.S. Census Bureau in its 2016 survey estimated that there were 32.3 million Hispanics aged 25 and older, almost equally divided by gender. However, 1.864 million females had at least a bachelor’s degree and 864,000 held graduate or professional degrees, as compared to 1.52 million males with bachelor’s degrees and 711,000 with graduate and professional degrees.
Progress In Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) Schools
The state’s higher education leaders are reporting progress in bringing to campus faculty and administrators that better reflect the demographics of their enrollment.
Dr. Lopez observed that Latinos have “very quietly gained a presence in higher education, but more has to be done.”
In Connecticut, an Excelencia in Education analysis for 2012-13 found that nearly 22,000 Latinos were attending college in Connecticut or 13 percent of the total enrollment, a proportion slightly less than their population.
Higher visibility of Latinos in academic leadership posts is also considered important because it also provides role models. The message they receive is “I can become president,” said Dr. Lopez, who last year retired as interim provost for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system (CSCU). “We have four Latino presidents, Texas has none,” she said recently.
In addition to Dr. Nunez, the other presidents are Dr. Zulma Toro, Central Connecticut State University; Dr. Wilfredo Nieves, Capital Community and Dr. Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Naugatuck Valley Community
At Yale, the state’s highest regarded private university, about 8 percent of all students, 12 percent at Yale College, are identified as Hispanic as compared to less than 3 percent of the faculty, primarily associated with the medical schools.
The Ivy League institution recently announced it was devoting $50 million to “build on excellence and diversity” of its faculty university-wide.
At the University of Connecticut, 8.7 percent of the students were classified as Latino in 2015, with that number expected to approach 10 percent this year. The percentage of Latino faculty at Storrs, the regional campus and the health center in Farmington, has fluctuated from 4.38 percent in 2012 to 3.48 in the fall 2016.
“UConn wants very much to recruit larger numbers of talented professors and researchers in the Latino community, and we aim to see those percentages increase in coming years if our efforts are successful,” said Stephanie Reitz, a university spokesperson.