Photo Courtesy of the Latino Commencement Celebration / The Collegian
When Daniel Cisneros graduates in the spring with a political science degree, he will not only be reaching a personal milestone, he will become the first in his family to earn a four-year college degree.
As a Hispanic student and president of Chicanos in Law at California State University, Fresno, Cisneros said his mother always encouraged him to go to college and earn a degree.
Stories similar to Cisnerosâ€™ are becoming more and more common at Fresno State as the number of Hispanic students graduating with bachelorâ€™s degrees increase. The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine recently ranked Fresno State 18 out of 100 schools in the nation for awarding bachelorâ€™s degrees to Hispanics in the 2007-2008 school year.
â€œCollege is a mindset. Not many students, especially Hispanic students, grow up with the mindset that college is necessary,â€ Cisneros said. â€œBut if you start early enough, give them [Hispanics] the mentality that it is necessary, theyâ€™ll pursue it. And once they pursue it, theyâ€™ll definitely stick it out.â€
Dr. Luz Gonzalez, dean of the College of Social Sciences, has watched the number of Hispanic graduates increase. Gonzalez said the top 20 ranking speaks highly to the collegeâ€™s ability to teach to a diverse population and different learning styles, in her 21 years as a faculty member at Fresno State.
â€œWeâ€™ve dispelled all the myths and rumors and stereotypes that only a certain select group is eligible to go to college,â€ Gonzalez said. â€œThese [Hispanic] students are embraced in not only academia, but things that pertain to their culture, that make them proud, that reinforce their identity.â€
Frances Pena-Olgin, director of University Outreach Services, said the process for recruiting Hispanic students involves visiting high schools, community colleges and college fairs and informing parents about the opportunities, scholarships and financial aid available.
University Outreach Services strives to create and promote a college-going culture among Hispanics, Pena-Olgin said. For many first-generation Hispanics the decision to attend college can be scary and unknown.
In order to help with the transition to a four-year school, Pena-Olgin said the University Outreach Services sends college ambassadors, who are current Fresno State students, into local high schools to serve as role models and mentors to Hispanic students.
â€œOur goal is to educate our community, especially our region,â€ Pena-Olgin said. â€œI think that by having an increase in Hispanic students we are starting to mirror our community that we serve.â€
Invested faculty members, mentoring programs, cultural celebrations and annual events like the Latino Commencement Celebration help to recruit and retain Hispanic students at Fresno State, Gonzalez said.
To further encourage Hispanic students in pursuing a degree, Gonzalez said emphasis in math and English is required from kindergarten through 12th-grade to better prepare students for college level courses. Pena-Olgin said a special outreach to Hispanic males is also needed as more Hispanic women attend college than Hispanic men.
According to the Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning Web site, the number of Hispanic students enrolled at Fresno State in 2008 was 7,392, or 32.7 percent of the total university enrollment.
To boast that Fresno State is in the top 20 schools nationwide for graduating Hispanics means that the college is doing a great job in educating the largest minority population in the state, Gonzalez said.
â€œI am so proud of this institution,â€ Gonzalez said. â€œIt makes me as a Latina want to work even harder for Fresno State. To be able to come into an institution that embraces diversity as we do is a point of pride. I love it.â€