Enrollment and graduation rates of Hispanics at UNCW improves
Published: Monday, January 7, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 14:01
The number of Hispanic students choosing UNCW for college is rising. Graduation rates among Hispanic students are going up too. Students and faculty weigh in on what's working.
Violetta Perez-Villa is the first person in her family to attend a four-year university. She grew up in Etucuaro, a small town in the state region of Michoacan de Ocampo, Mexico. In the summer of 2002, when Perez-Villa was 9 years old, her family left Mexico for the U.S.
“I remember going to ESL classes every day, and I used to hate it because they would pull me out of my art class,” said Perez-Villa, recalling her first year trying to learn English.
Perez-Villa is one of the many Hispanic students at UNCW to be the first in their family to attend college.
UNCW has the third highest enrollment of Hispanic students of all UNC system schools, following closely behind UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Charlotte. In 2008, Hispanic students made up 3.2 percent of the total student body. In 2012, that number climbed to 5.2 percent.
This rise in the number of Hispanic students might be due to the increasing opportunities available to them, including clubs and organizations geared toward building the Hispanic community, and the university’s financial aid incentives. In February 2012, for the fourth consecutive year, UNCW was named one of the nation’s “Best Value” public universities by The Princeton Review. The entry highlights UNCW’s campus culture, facilities and financial aid opportunities. In the 2011-2012 academic year, UNCW awarded a total of $107 million in scholarships and loans.
"I think it’s a good reflection of what we’re doing with what we have,” said Beth Casper, associate director of financial aid, commenting on the Princeton Review’s inclusion of UNCW in "The Best Value Colleges: 2012 Edition."
FAFSA, a form that all students interested in applying for college financial aid must complete, does not include a section for demographic information, refuting the common stereotype that financial aid can be awarded based solely on race.
“We do offer several scholarships and programs for fostering diversity based on need and merit, not race,” said Casper.
Edelmira Segovia, director of Centro Hispano, reinforced Casper’s sentiment: “That’s something I preach oftentimes. I’m very quick to say there’s no such thing as a scholarship for being Hispanic. You have to be a contributing member of society.”
The Hispanic students at UNCW are doing just as Segovia asserts. The graduation retention numbers show a growth in achievement among the Hispanic community. In 2006, UNCW's four-year graduation rate for Hispanic students was 31.3 percent. In 2011, the numbers climbed to 39.4 percent. The six-year graduation rates showed a similar rise, from 39.1 percent in 2006 to 54.5 percent in 2011. These numbers are growing both from the rise in Hispanic enrollment and the resources available for them at UNCW.
Centro Hispano is a unit in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion that seeks to support the rapidly growing number of Hispanic students applying for and attending college. The organization offers service-learning opportunities, connections to professional mentors, cultural organizations and to the Wilmington community.
“Centro Hispano has been such a blessing to the university,” said Marcio Moreno, associate director of admissions.
On the admission application for entry into UNCW, the first question in the demographics section asks: “Are you Hispanic of any kind?” Then follows the questions about race.
“By separating these questions, the government is viewing Hispanic, not as a race, but as a culture, a heritage,” said Moreno. “Just like a person can be both Hispanic and African-American—it becomes less about race.”
Moreno is the first Hispanic bilingual counselor at UNCW. His ability to speak Spanish benefits the parents of first-generation immigrants who may not speak English. From the start of his career at UNCW, Moreno has seen the number of Hispanic students growing immensely.
“I arrived in 2005, and that freshman class has 35 Hispanic students. This year we have 127,” said Moreno. “Not having that familiar educational background, first-generation students just need some extra help, that push.”
As a work-study student and an active member of Centro Hispano, Perez-Villa is familiar with that extra push.
“To be honest, at the beginning of my senior year, I wasn’t even thinking about a four-year university, but my guidance counselor encouraged me, and it means a lot for me to be here,” said Perez-Villa.