Program to address declining Latino population in higher education

Syeda Hasan

The University introduced a new research program that aims to address the declining number of Latino males pursuing higher education at a symposium Friday.

UT's Division of Diversity and Community Engagement hosted the Latino Male Symposium on campus and presented the initiatives of its new program Project MALES, or Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success. The program is designed to find solutions to educational obstacles Latino male students commonly face.

Shaun Harper, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said in fall 2009, UT had 7.7 percent more Latino women enrolled than men, and 14.2 percent more Latino women than men successfully completed their degrees.

Victor Saenz, UT assistant professor and Project MALES director, said the program will conduct research on Latino male students’ experiences as they transition from high school to college and provide resources such as personalized mentoring and career advising to help students succeed.

“This is not about writing for obscure journals and bookshelves, but it is about translating that research into action,” Saenz said. “This project will truly be where the rubber meets the road in addressing this crisis.”

Francisco Sanchez, assistant vice president of enrollment management at Texas A&M University in San Antonio, said many Latino male students struggle with pressures such as a lack of financial stability and family support. He said the cultural concept of machismo, or masculinity, may make them feel pressured to enter the work force and begin contributing to family finances immediately after high school.

“I don’t think we reach out young enough to these kids, and I think we need to go even further,” Sanchez said. “We need to talk to families much more early on about financial management and what their options are.”

Julio Ramos, director of student affairs at UT San Antonio’s College of Business, said the university’s administrators have implemented programs such as assigning counselors to smaller groups of students to give Latino males a close-knit support system in which they feel comfortable discussing their concerns.

“Not many Latino males have that role model once they get to college because many of them are first generation college students,” Ramos said. “I’ve seen that in working with these students, they tend to lack confidence about whether they can succeed, and we try to instill that in them.”

Administrators tend to have a difficult time convincing male students to actively participate in programs and attend events, said Michael Nava, executive director of the TRiO student support services programs with UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

“Sometimes these students don’t want help because they don’t necessarily connect with or trust who they’re talking to,” Nava said. “Part of what the project is looking to do is get students to understand the usefulness of the resources available to them and to get them to utilize them.”