Georgia Colleges Recruit Growing Population of Latino Students

Laura Diamond, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 27, 2009

If Georgia’s public colleges are to succeed–and the state’s economy is to flourish–during the next couple of decades, recruiters must learn how to convince a growing group of students, and their families, that higher education is a good deal.

Already they are trying out new tactics to recruit Latino students, a group that will soon make up nearly one in four of Georgia’s college-age residents. Sheer numbers make this an increasingly desirable demographic for colleges and for the state’s economic well-being.

But reaching these students can be daunting. Recruiters and students face several obstacles financial and cultural, including language barriers, teens’ desires to support their families, a lack of knowledge about college and concerns over how to pay for it–especially if they are undocumented.

That means recruiters have to do more than just hang up posters in high school guidance offices. Instead, having learned the crucial role family plays, they go where students and their relatives are–churches, festivals, sporting events and other community gatherings.

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Beyond college enrollment, leaders say the students’ success is crucial for Georgia’s economic standing.

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Rossbacher [Lisa Rossbacher, president of Southern Polytechnic State University] chaired a task force in the late 1990s looking at how the University System of Georgia should address the growing population. In 1994, Latinos made up 1.6 percent of the enrollment at the state’s public colleges and universities. Last year, Latinos made up 3.5 percent–or 9,874 students out of the state’s total enrollment of 282,978.

But in just 15 years, nearly one in four college-age students in the U.S. will be Latino, a national statistic that mirrors what is happening even more quickly in Georgia. Latinos comprised 4 percent of the state’s high school graduates in 2005, but they are projected to be 24 percent by 2022.

In response to the changing demographics, colleges hired bilingual recruiters and printed admissions and financial aid brochures in Spanish. Southern Polytechnic, Georgia State University and others set up mentoring and scholarship programs for Latino students. Georgia State, the University of Georgia and others hold special recruiting programs tailored for Latino students and their families.

Yet challenges remain. While 89 percent of Latinos questioned say college is important, only 48 percent plan to get a degree, according to a national survey released this month by the Pew Hispanic Center.

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About 75 percent of Latino students who cut their education short do so because of family obligations, according to the Pew survey.

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Undocumented students have more financial obstacles. They can attend a public college but they must pay out-of-state tuition, even if they graduated from a Georgia high school. Out-of-state tuition can be triple what state residents pay.

While the state doesn’t track how many undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition, it’s clear their higher costs make college much less affordable. These students are not eligible for the state’s academic HOPE scholarship and their immigration status means they cannot apply for government grants or low-cost loans.

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