Located in Austin, TX, 35 percent of the nearly 5,000 students at St. Edward’s University in 2013 identified as Hispanic/Latino. Additionally, at St. Edward’s, the number of undergraduate college freshmen who characterize themselves as Hispanic/Latino grew from 31.8 percent in fall 2009 to 43.4 percent in fall 2013. Special programs at St. Edward’s make sure that the institution is not leaving it to chance that these students will be successful.
The College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) welcomes 35 students each year who come from a family in which migrant or seasonal farm work is the primary source of income. CAMP addresses the challenges these students face when transitioning to college, including providing health care services to them. The students attend a weeklong orientation prior to the start of classes, and upper-class CAMPers serve as mentors to help guide freshmen through their first week on campus.
“From the day they arrive on campus, CAMP students are surrounded by former CAMP participants, CAMP staff and other university advocates,” said CAMP director Esther Yacono. “They attend a team building weekend where they can begin to build new friendships that feel like family.”
Throughout the semester, CAMP students work with a Peer Academic Coach who was also a CAMP student. The students receive a minimum of three weekly tutoring sessions. They also have personal and career counseling sessions and monthly meetings with an academic counselor. Often these students are the first in their families to attend college and may feel obligated to help the family by working rather than going to school full-time. Yacono’s office becomes a “home away from home,” where many find the guidance and resources needed to persist and succeed in college.
“We feel that it is critical for students to have a safe and supportive environment in which they can thrive,” said Yacono. “They feel free to bring academic and personal issues into our offices for discussion and input.”
More than 95 percent of CAMP students are Hispanic, and 65 percent come from the South Texas Valley region which has some of the lowest income levels in the nation. All but $2,000 of a CAMP student’s freshman year expenses are covered through university, federal and state funds, as well as outside scholarships. Expenses in subsequent years are covered by university funds and outside scholarships.
St. Edward’s was one of four institutions chosen by the U.S. Department of Education to administer CAMP in 1972. Prior to the federally funded CAMP initiative there was no record of any migrant student graduating from college in the country. Since that time, St. Edward’s CAMP has served 2,800 students and is the longest, continuously running, migrant education university program in the nation. The average six-year graduation rate for 2004-2007 CAMP cohorts is 60 percent, exceeding both the six-year graduation rates for Hispanics in Texas and the nation, which are 41 percent and 51 percent, respectively. (Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education/National Center for Educational Statistics, 2011)
Next Stop: Grad School
St. Edward’s also works hard to help underrepresented students succeed in graduate studies. Its Ronald E. McNair Post baccalaureate Achievement Program (also known as McNair Scholars) encourages first-generation college and low-income students to pursue graduate studies by providing opportunities that expose them to graduate programs. This may include research training and other research-related opportunities, presentations at national conferences, funding to visit graduate programs, and involvement with teaching assistantships and internships, including connecting with seasoned doctoral students in their area of study. Scholars receive one-to-one and weekly seminars for academic and career advising and graduate school preparation. Counseling is tailored to the students’ academic and financial needs.
Since McNair Scholars come from a wide range of disciplines, the research they complete reflects that. The summer 2014 research symposium included the work of 11 scholars from accounting, biology, communications, international business, philosophy, political science, psychology, and sociology. The program provides a stipend for scholars to commit full-time to the eight-week summer research internship since they cannot seek other employment.
In the past 11 years, two Mc Nair Scholars have earned doctorate degrees, and 12 are currently enrolled in doctoral programs. Twenty-five alumni have earned a master’s degree. On average, 70 percent of McNair Scholars are enrolled in a post baccalaureate program by the fall after they graduate. Seventy-six percent of 2013-14 graduates are currently enrolled in graduate studies, and Elvia Valle, a McNair Scholar who graduated in the spring, received a Fulbright Research/Study award at the Academy of Vienna in Austria.
Embracing a Multi-cultural Approach Outside of the Classroom
St. Edward’s focus on underrepresented groups in higher education is not just lectures and labs, however. Its Multicultural Leadership Board (MLB) creates culturally diverse programs that educate the campus community, provide a platform for discussion and encourage positive change at St. Edward’s University. MLB coordinates with organizations such as the Black Student Alliance, the Hispanic Student Alliance and the Asian Student Alliance to host events that will foster awareness, open-mindedness and respect among the campus community at St. Edward’s. What’s the one thing that can unite college students no matter what their background? Events such as the MLB’s Soul Food Sunday and the Cesar Chavez Birthday Pachanga, a weeklong celebration of Cesar Chavez that highlights the CAMP program, prove that all students, no matter their backgrounds, enjoy good food and a fun celebration.