Black colleges find new market in appeal to Latino students
At Texas school, success evident in campus influence
By Dana Calvo, Globe Correspondent
HOUSTON -- More Latinos are attending black colleges than ever before -- changing the way student bodies look, expanding the dance music at parties, and, in some cases, helping to attract more Latino professors to the faculty.
From 1976 to 2001 -- the most recent data available -- the number of Latino students enrolled in black colleges has nearly doubled, from 3,442 to 6,665, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But here, at Texas Southern University, the numbers are even more dramatic. With 498 Latino students enrolled this fall -- about five percent of TSU's entire undergraduate student body of 9,585 -- specialists say it has one the largest populations of Latino students of any black college in the country.
School administrators say appealing to Latino students is good business.
"The Latino market is growing. They haven't been targeted as well as they should be by mainstream universities. There's a lot of effort by [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] to capture that market," said Hasan Jamil, assistant vice president for enrollment services at TSU. "We are aggressively recruiting those students. By 2015 they'll be the majority in the state and in Houston, and we're in the growth business. This is the new market for us."
In October Texas Southern University held its annual Tiger Day, a public relations bonanza for the school to appeal to students at feeder high schools and local black high schools. School administrators give tours across the 150-acre campus, hand out literature, and encourage them to mingle with current students.
But last month the TSU held a second day, Dia del Tigre, during Hispanic Heritage Month, geared toward Latino students. More than 1,500 prospective Latino students showed up.
Students are beginning to take notice of the Latino influence on campus. Senior Richelle Jones, 21, is president of the university program council, the group that arranges buses to football games, Movie Night, Apollo Night, and other recreational activities. She said members in the relatively new Latino fraternity, Sigma Lambda Beta, are more visible, walking around campus in baseball caps and sweatshirts with their house's greek letters on them. And earlier this month, during Live Music on the Yard, Jones said she was struck by the number of Latinos in attendance -- both playing in the bands and jamming to the music.
"They've always been here, but there's definitely been more of a push this past year to get them into Tiger pride," she said.
Behind the scenes, school officials have added a Spanish-language line on their toll-free call center. The campus now sports a new Hispanic Student Association as well as a chapter for the League of United Latin American Citizens, which is the country's largest Hispanic organization. And TSU officials have begun wooing Latino faculty.
"It's important that when a student comes here, they can see someone who they can relate to," Jamil said. This semester there are 12 Latino tenured faculty members, compared to seven in 1994.
Such moves are required to make any effort at including Latinos successful, specialists said.
"The most interesting places to look at are the places where they have the most Latinos. You need to look at integration issues. You don't just let someone in. You have to change a little if you're going to get the advantages of diversity," said Gary Orfield, professor of Education and Social Policy at Harvard Graduate School of Education. "From the perspective of African-Americans, sometimes it seems like they should not have to deal with another group with problems, before they solve their own. But from a broader perspective that's the mission of these institutions: to help the disadvantaged. And that's what they're set up to do."
School officials are pondering a "diversity center" where the 130 members of the new Hispanic Student Association can hold their monthly meetings. For now, they gather in an administrator's office.
Jessica Garcia, 22, is president of the group, and she was delighted to be contacted by a few black students who asked if they could join.
"Some of them want to join because they want to learn Spanish and learn about our culture," said Garcia.
Experts say Historically Black Colleges and Universities are a logical resource for Latino students, as most of them have been relegated to inner city, inferior, segregated high schools. In addition, they tend to look at the role of college as more developmental.
The high school dropout rates for blacks and Latinos are very similar, about 50 percent, although for males they're even higher. And for Latinos, the college completion rate is the lowest of any group. Authorities say one contributing factor could be language, but another could be that there is no "historically Latino college and university" system. There is no undergraduate haven dedicated to Latinos.
"The Latino community is similar to our community," said Dr. Alvin Thornton, associate provost of Howard University. "Their student population is similar to the one that Howard University was created to serve: a structural lack of access, being disproportionately underserved by secondary education, lower performance for a variety of reasons on tests that make one eligible for certain schools."