Hispanic students find success at Wisconsin’s technical colleges

By Erin Eagan

September 15 to October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month, a time when our nation celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans, with this year’s theme being: “Honoring Our Heritage, Building Our Future.”

Before talking about the future, it’s imperative we talk about the present and the fact that Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the United States, making up 17.6% of the population. This growth has translated to an increase of Hispanic youth in schools. Today, nearly one in four students at our nation’s public schools is Hispanic.

Consequently, the number of Hispanic students seeking to further their education has nearly doubled, and technical colleges seem to be a first-choice resource. They have come to be a source of advocacy and support, while meeting the direct needs of the Hispanic community.

Affordability is key

Higher education is of increasing importance for Hispanics, but college access has been somewhat limited due to a lack of affordability. Now more than ever, however, Hispanic students are attending technical colleges, which are cost-effective and closer to home. In fact, in the last 10 years, the number of Hispanic students enrolled in program-level courses in the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) has more than doubled. In 2006, there were 5,574 Hispanic students, and in 2016 that number reached 11,414 — an astounding 49% growth.

Tied to the increase in technical college enrollment is an increase in available aid to the Hispanic population. Today, there are several scholarships and grants available that specifically fund Hispanic students, providing them with the support they need to obtain higher education:

Federal Pell Grants — A Federal Pell Grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. The amount depends on financial need, costs to attend school, status as a full-time or part-time student, and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin Returning Student Scholarship — Available to a Wisconsin resident who is currently accepted as a full-time or part-time degree seeking student in an accredited Wisconsin University/College or Technical College and has experienced a minimum of 1-year lapse in their education. Awardees receive $1,000 in financial support for the 2016-17 academic year.

Hispanic Heritage Youth AwardsHonoring Latino high school seniors who excel in the classroom and community and for their focus in various categories. Youth Awardees can receive grants for education or community projects to encourage social innovation and entrepreneurship.

Latinos United for College Education Scholarships (LUCES)Recognizing Wisconsin’s outstanding Latino high school seniors, college students or returning-adult students who have completed their GED/HSED and have shown previous involvement in volunteer/leadership or community activities. Scholarships are available ranging from $500 to $1,000 for one semester during the academic year.

Wisconsin Minority Undergraduate Retention GrantAwarded to resident minority undergraduates, excluding first-year students, enrolled at least halftime in independent or Wisconsin Technical College institutions. Awards are based on financial need with a maximum grant of $2,500 a year for up to eight semesters.

Technical colleges offer flexibility, variety

Along with affordability, technical colleges offer the flexibility that four-year universities simply cannot. “Many times Hispanic families are in need of getting an education but also working to provide for their family,” explains Lidia Hernández Guízar, Marketing Outreach Specialist at Gateway Technical College. “Whether they’re fresh out of high school or out in the workforce and need to further their education, technical colleges provide that opportunity where it can be affordable with flexible scheduling.”

Technical colleges also offer many careers that are appealing to the Hispanic community. “Latinas are the largest growing number in Wisconsin for being entrepreneurs,” notes Hernández Guízar. “When they come to a technical college and see they can do small business entrepreneurship or business management, that’s appealing to them.” Besides Business, other programs of study most popular among WTCS Hispanic students are Liberal Arts, Nursing, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Accounting and IT.

WTCS institutions have excelled at reaching out to the needs of the Hispanic community. Some of the state’s technical colleges offer specific bilingual programs and services. Others require staff to complete cultural-awareness training and/or have staff members who are fluent in Spanish. These and other resources available to Hispanic students will only continue to increase in the coming years.

Continuing the trend

More Hispanics are earning college degrees than ever before, but many believe that number can, and should, be even higher. While the Hispanic population is increasing, conversely, so is the number of jobs that require some type of post-secondary education.

A good starting point is with more outreach. Oftentimes, a push to higher education starts with the parents, a very influential aspect in Hispanic students’ lives. “Now that we’re becoming more respectful towards diversity and acknowledging that Hispanic culture does influence the educational route they will take after high school, in figuring out ways how to better serve them, we are heading in the right direction,” concludes Hernández Guízar. “There is still more to be done, but it’s one step at a time.”