Recruiting Latino Students

According to new projections from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), enrollment of Hispanic/Latino students in higher education is expected to grow by 46 percent between 2009 and 2020, as compared to 25 percent for black and Asian students and 1 percent for white students. In light of this projection, we wanted to highlight the practices from an interview we conducted in November 2010 with Judi Diaz Bonacquisti, the associate vice president of enrollment services at the Metropolitan State College of Denver (MSCD).

In the past few years, a number of institutions in Colorado have been investing in efforts to become Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) -- institutions at which more than 25 percent of the students are Latino, and which are thus eligible for specific federal funds. The most successful effort in Colorado has been at MSCD, an urban institution with a mission focused on serving the immediate metropolitan area, a significant percentage of which is Latino. Metro State enrolls more than 24,000 students, and in 2010 saw an increase of 1,054 over the previous fall; of those 1,054 students enrolled at MSCD last fall, 735 were Hispanic.

As institutions strive to become more competitive in their outreach and recruitment of Latino students, Bonacquisti has advice for what can be learned from recent successes at MSCD.

Engage the Community

Where MSCD has seen success -- and where Bonacquisti suggests other institutions seeking to serve Latino students better might also see the most success -- is in engaging the target community closely. This entails moving beyond the traditional high school visit to offer additional programs that inspire students and parents and that help remove barriers to college access.

Here are two examples.


When you send staff to high schools, Bonacquisti recommends focusing on removing barriers to applying to college. For first-generation, Latino students, this may mean:

  • Inviting your own students to chat with a high school class about the college experience
  • Providing staff who can hold an afternoon workshop to walk students through the application process
  • Offering a workshop for parents to help them understand their options for financial aid

Bonacquisti also recommends focusing less on enrolling students in your specific college and more on assisting them generally with college preparedness. Offering a service will build a better relationship with the community than offering a sales pitch. "Don't just go to the high school, set up a banner, and expect the students to hurry to you," she warns.

Also, ensure that counselors and teachers at feeder schools have a primary point of contact at your institution, someone they can refer students to quickly and can contact with their own questions.


Whether as a partnership effort between one or two faculty champions on your campus and a local high school, or as a more extensive program with the backing of a departmental budget, one key strategy for engaging Latino high school students and exciting them about college is to establish a heritage program.

MSCD's "Journey Through Our Heritage" program is a multicultural educational program funded by the college's Department of Chicano/Chicana Studies and the Department of African/African American Studies. The year-long program:

  • Pairs college students with high school students both to mentor and to introduce them to the college experience
  • Partners MSCD faculty with participating high school teachers to foster a more inclusive high school curriculum
  • Offers cultural events, culminating in an academic "knowledge bowl" between competing high school teams

"A program of this kind brings relevancy to the Latino student's learning experience. In their traditional history textbooks, these students don't see many people with "z"s and "q"s in their last name. But through this program they hear about their heritage -- there are opportunities to get excited about it, and to see that college can be a place where they can celebrate and learn more about their cultural and historical identity."
Judi Diaz Bonacquisti, MSCD

It Takes a Coordinated Effort

To see results, your effort to enroll more Latino students will require a task force comprising professionals in admissions, marketing and communications, financial aid, student services, and academic advising. At the least, you will need to identify champions in these offices who you can partner with.

Bonacquisti offers this scenario to illustrate the importance of making a concerted, cross-campus effort. Suppose that a college were to invest in bilingual television and radio commercials as the key strategy for its outreach to the local Latino community. Parents of prospective Latino students then respond to the commercials and call the admissions office for more information, only to find that the staff answering the phone do not speak Spanish. Far from making a positive impression through the bilingual advertisements, this college will develop a negative reputation among the Latino community; they did not follow through on the implicit promise of their advertising.

A better approach, in this scenario, would be to:

  • Make sure to target the television and radio spots toward Spanish-speaking family of English-speaking, bilingual students; because fluency in English will be required in your students, make sure that the intent and design of your advertising campaign is to inform parents and families about your institution and remove barriers to application, rather than merely to interest a larger number of Latino students
  • Ensure that you have bilingual staff in admissions who can respond to inquiries

Follow through with Support and Services

Even if you invest significant staff and resources in recruiting and enrolling Latino students, early gains will not translate into sustainable college completion rates unless support for the student after admission has been a key part of your strategy.

"You have to show authenticity. If you recruit a student and offer no follow-up, that is analogous to inviting a student to a party at which you do not serve their food, you don't play their music, and you don't offer them a chair to sit on -- and then you are startled when they leave."
Judi Diaz Bonacquisti, MSCD

Besides the risk of attrition, there is also the risk of establishing a negative reputation among the Latino community in which you are recruiting. It is critical that parents, high school counselors, and community members see that not only are you recruiting Latinos, but that you are also supporting, mentoring, and graduating them.

Read about practices that have an impact on the academic success and persistence of Latino students:
Improving the Academic Success of Latino Students

According to recent numbers, nearly 30 percent of first-time freshman students attending college this year are classified as "first-generation" students, those for whom neither parent holds a four-year college degree. First-generation students sometimes require special attention to succeed in college, and research has shown that their parents are often unequipped to provide the necessary support. Join us online on December 13 and 15, 2011, to learn how you can implement support programs to improve their retention and graduation rates.