Illustration by Owen Thomas.
Illustration by Owen Thomas.

The population of Latin@/Chican@ students at UC Santa Cruz has been on the rise since 2005 and reached an all-time high in 2014 with 31.6 percent. Despite a small drop in 2015-16 Latin@ enrollment, the university works to cultivate an environment that welcomes students of diverse backgrounds.

“Academic support is limited in itself for all students,” said Student Union Assembly Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Sauli Colio. “If the university is admitting more Hispanic students then it needs to address how to properly support those students.”

UCSC became a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) designate in 2012 after reaching a Latin@ population of more than 25 percent  — a qualification to be considered an HSI by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Recently, the United States Board of Education granted two Title V grants to UCSC’s HSI program.

The awarded funds, totaling $3.6 million, will be used to implement programs to increase retention rates and success among students. The committee is currently outlining steps to launch the programs for the 2016-17 school year.

“We are proposing interventions and reforms to the university experience for students that we think will support their success,” said Pablo Reguerín, the executive director for retention services and educational opportunity programs and co-chair of the HSI committee. “We expect to see increased retention, achievement and graduation rates for Latino students by providing support, culturally competent advisors and by creating a more welcoming environment.”

Reguerín and Juan Poblete — a professor in the humanities division and co-chair of the HSI committee — collaborated on the grant proposal with several faculty and staff members. The proposal centered around four main themes: math, writing, advising and community/sense of belonging. The proposed program, Maximizing Achievement through Preparedness and Advising, is designed to target prospective students from low-income areas and continuing students at risk of not graduating.

Research conducted by the committee found that math and writing were key areas of struggle specifically for students from low-income communities and with varying educational backgrounds.

For example, Math 2, the college algebra course offered at UCSC, will be redesigned to provide better support for students. The redesign proposes that an “active learning team-based section” be  doubled to twice a week led by two to four graduate teaching assistants and one undergraduate tutor per section. Sections would also be cut down from 35 to 25 students per section.

“We also know that students who get whatever grade they got in Math 2 will typically get one grade below that in their subsequent math class,” Reguerín said. “That’s been analyzed multiple times and we feel pretty confident about that. So even if you get a C in Math 2 it’s still kind of a risk factor that we want to try to address.”

The instructional strategies proposed include a course design with less lecturing to encourage an environment where students can contribute through participation and collaboration, along with increased instructional and advising support and social and behavioral intervention.

The Reading for Writing in College Institute, a 10-day writing seminar that will be implemented in the summer of 2016, is for incoming UCSC students who scored five or lower on the Analytical Writing Placement Exam. It will give students the opportunity to attend the writing preparation program and learn skills necessary to prepare them for success at UCSC.

Although the HSI proposed the programs, they are inclusive to students who identify outside of Latin@/Chican@ ethnicities.

Arnold Sanchez, an education graduate assistant, was hired to conduct research on diversity, student success and campus environment. Sanchez emphasized the importance of recognizing the needs of students of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

“[Maximizing Achievement through Preparedness and Advising (MAPA)] really decenters the focus off of the students and puts a lot of emphasis on the systemic structure of the institution and when you do that it creates a platform from which all other ethnic groups are built upon,” Sanchez said. “So it’s not really a Hispanic student serving -centered approach, but rather an institutionalist-based approach that is meant to assist Hispanic students, but by default will assist other students who are not Hispanic.”

Dr. Judith Estrada, the director of resource center El Centro, oversees MAPA’s community and sense of belonging theme. Estrada currently trains interns at El Centro and plans to work with advisors within the program to be culturally competent. She described cultural competency as identifying with one’s own culture and respecting the cultures of others.

“This whole issue of identity formation that is happening with students is standing where people are at and actually inviting people to be patient with others,” Estrada said. “Cultural competency is not compartmentalizing the student. Is she having trouble because she’s Latina? No, she’s having issues because she doesn’t understand the material. Cultural competency doesn’t mean that you have to understand but at least be aware.”

The term Latin@/Chican@ is used to be inclusive of both males and females, as well as those who do not identify within the gender binary.