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Voices of the Global Community

James Minor, Sacred Heart University

"...Today, she can help her family financially. Nevertheless, for her it is not enough. Her dream is to finish her education. She is determined to live a life of dignity...." (Elizabete Ribeiro, HAAP student, referring to herself in 3rd person).

According to the U.S. Census (2005), Latinos now represent the largest minority segment of the U.S. population (14.1%). Yet they have the highest drop-out rate of any major ethnic group and poorest retention rates in higher education (The Tomas Rivera Policy Institute and National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators 2003; Sanchez 2000). As a result, they lag behind in educational attainment - only 12.1% hold a bachelor's degree or more (compared to 30.6% of whites) (U.S. Census Bureau 2004).

This article describes Sacred Heart University's Hispanic Adult Achievers Program, a program established to address the unique educational needs of Latinos who have immigrated to the United States as adults. The article includes student achievement and retention data, as well as a brief discussion of the advising and retention strategies used.

Development and Growth of the HAAP. The Hispanic Adult Achievers Program (HAAP) started in 1998 with a group of 23 adult Latinos who had been studying English at a local Catholic community center. The students all had full-time jobs (as housekeepers, babysitters, landscapers, and the like) and were between the ages of 25 and 50. The HAAP was designed to offer these adult Latinos part-time higher education opportunities that were both affordable and supportive. Courses were made affordable by deeply discounting tuition and subsidizing text book expenses. The program created a supportive environment by having the students study together in cohorts. Students began with academic levels of English as a Second Language (ESL) and a core of academic courses (all of which received degree credit), then went on to pursue their various majors. The program staff consisted of a director, an academic advisor and a tutor.

Since beginning with the initial group of 23, the HAAP has grown nearly 300% and now has over 90 participating students. Most of this growth has come from area Latino community organizations such as churches.

Credit Completion and Retention Rates. Along with an increased number of students, there has also been a rising rate of credit completion. In 2004-2005, 87 students completed an average of 11.44 credits (up from 7.56 per student in 2000-2001).

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Furthermore, retention rates for students in the HAAP since academic year 2001 are significantly better than national averages. After 3 years, 69% were still enrolled; and after 4 years, 67% were still enrolled. This is striking when one considers that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (2006), nearly half of all working adults who attend college on a part-time basis drop out within 3 years.

Degree completion.These credits are also adding up to degree completions. Following academic year 2005, 25% of the students had completed 60+ credits, 12 of whom received associate degrees (2 magna cum laude, 1 summa cum laude, and 2 cum laude), with 4 more on target to receive their bachelor's degrees this year.

Recruiting & Advisement strategies. The HAAP, then, appears to help Latina/o students succeed academically. Following is a brief description of the strategies employed with the program that have contributed to this achievement.

  • Developing community partnerships & building community. Friendship and community can be extremely powerful sources of educational support for Latinos (Zalaquett 2006). In recruitment for the program, therefore, an effort has been made to draw upon existing and important social structures by developing partnerships with local Latino communities. To be eligible for admission to the program, students must demonstrate active involvement with a local Latino community. Students, then, have a prevailing and stable system of relationships that can provide them with accountability and support in their educational pursuits.By recruiting students who value social connectedness, the program also facilitates the creation of community among its students. Along with the cohesion that the cohort model provides, the program additionally builds community through member requirements, a 'code of ethics' that expects each student to participate in fund-raising activities, attend program meetings each semester, and work with other students on committees. To be an HAAP student is, thus, to be a part of a family of Latina/o scholars. As one of the students has affirmed, 'The most important thing of HAAP is that it works as a united community, where we get the support from everyone, including teachers and classmates' (Leslie Argueta, HAAP student).
  • Making academic resources available. One of the functions of the program staff is to act as a liaison between HAAP students and University resources. The academic advisor has the most direct interface with students, getting to know them through regular contact and helping each of them formulate a clear academic plan. The relationship between students and the advisor is quite strong, lasting throughout their time at the University. In addition to academic advisement, the students make use of the career counseling center to help them determine career goals associated with their academic majors. Through this combination of academic and career counseling, students develop specific goals to achieve, a factor that has been shown to contribute to Latina/o student success (Zalaquett 2006).
  • Deputizing members. Students in the HAAP are encouraged to take ownership of the program. The program motto ('Be an achiever, not a drop-out!') and code of ethics were created by students, and each year a council is elected to provide leadership. Students are also invited to recommend friends and relatives for admission to the program. In this way students develop a vested interest in building community and maintaining a supportive and cohesive learning environment.
  • Celebrating successes. At the close of every academic year the program's student council organizes an awards ceremony to celebrate the students' achievements. Each student with at least 30 credits receives a certificate showing credit completion totals. The ceremony also includes a special speaker, student testimonials, entertainment and a nice dinner. Through these activities students inspire one another and foster a culture of educational dignity and respect.

Despite the program's successes, the HAAP faces significant challenges; one of which is economic. Can the University continue to bear the cost of deeply discounting the HAAP tuition? To continue to grow, the University will likely need to find partners to share this cost. Another challenge is how to address the issue of undocumented immigrants. With as many as 8 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., educational institutions must wrestle with the issue of whether or not to deny them access to higher education. Nevertheless, the program staff is inspired to continue by student sentiments such as this:

"Thanks to the HAAP, I can dream again of pursuing an academic life that I always wanted. Even though sacrifices will be inevitable, such as the loss of free time that I have, I am willing to do it all for the sake of a better tomorrow for myself and for what I can bring to those around me." (Thiago Pires, HAAP student)

James Minor
Sacred Heart University
MinorJ@sacredheart.edu

References

Sanchez, I. M. (2000). Motivating and maximizing learning in minority classrooms. New Directions for Community Colleges, 112, 35-44.

The Tomas Rivera Policy Institute and National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators. (2003). Closing achievement gaps: improving educational outcomes for Hispanic children. Los Angeles, CA: TRPI. Washington, DC: National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2005). Table 1. Annual estimates of the population by race alone or in combination and Latino/a origin for the United States and states: July 1, 2004. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at http://www.census.gov/popest/states/asrh/tables/SC-EST2004-04.xls

U.S. Census Bureau. (2004). Table 6.1 Educational Attainment of the Population 25 Years and Over by Sex, Hispanic Origin, and Race: 2004. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/hispanic/ASEC2004/2004CPS_tab6.1a.pdf

U.S. Department of Education National Center for Educational Statistics. (2006). Nontraditional Undergraduates / Persistence and Attainment of Nontraditional Students. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs/web/97578g.asp

Zalaquett, Carlos P. (2006). Study of successful Latina/o students. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 5, 1, 35-47.

Cite this article using APA style as: Minor, J. (2006, September). Helping adult Latina/o part-time university student achieve. Academic Advising Today, 29(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]

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