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November 13th, 2012

Policy Memo by: Kristina Ruiz-Mesa

Keim, J., McDermott, J.C., & Gerard, M.R. (2010). A community college bridge program: Utilizing a group format to promote transitions for Hispanic students. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 34, p.769-783.

The Problem

In the coming decade, the Hispanic population will continue to grow, and by 2020 one in five Americans will be Hispanic (Sorensen, Brewer, Carroll, & Bryton, 1995). When considering the economic and workforce needs of the country, paired with the rapid growth of the Hispanic population, there are concerns about the level of education completed by Hispanics as well as the impact that lower education levels with have on the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Census (2012), Hispanics are the group with the lowest percentage of high school graduates in the country. Only 61% of Hispanics have earned high school diplomas, and although nearly half of those with high school diplomas (30.3%) attend attended some college, currently, only 13% of U.S. Hispanics have a bachelor’s degree, as compared to 28% of White, non-Hispanics.

Several barriers contribute to the high dropout rates for U.S. Hispanics in higher education that prevents degree completion. A quarter of all Hispanic students attend college part-time, a factor that has been shown to increase the risk of dropping out (Fry, 2002). Additionally, more than 50% of all U.S. Hispanics begin their college career at a community college where less than half will transfer to a four-year college and complete a bachelor’s degree. There are indications that a lack of academic advising, coming from a rural area, and limited financial resources all contribute to the non-completion of college degrees for U.S. Hispanics.

Other factors that are having a negative impact on college completion for U.S. Hispanics are challenges with learning academic English and a lack of exposure to cultural and social settings that are helpful in making sense of expectations and the policies and practices involved with creating a college experience. In most cases, Hispanics who are English language learners, gain English language skills through their everyday interactions and conversations. These everyday conversations, however, do not adequately prepare students for the use of academic or scholarly English, used in college settings, which can often be more complex.

Research Approach

The researchers used observation, interviews, and workshop evaluations to assess “The Bridge Program,” which was designed to help two groups of aspiring teachers. The Bridge Program was started with a Title V grant from the Department of Education and focused on helping students transition from high school to community college (group one) and from community college to a four-year college (group two). The purpose of the grant was to train teachers to fulfill a need for more highly trained K-12 educators in the rural area of Cochise County, Arizona. The local university had a continuing effort to promote the inclusion of local Hispanic students within its campus community. As such, for this study, the researchers focused on group two, students who were transiting from a community college to this university.

There were 44 Hispanic students who participated in the study. The students were videotaped and observed while participating in workshops associated with their education program. Students in the study were all English-language learners (ELL) in college who live in a rural area and who are in a lower income bracket. When asked about their K-12 education and placement scores from their junior or community college, all students reported that they felt underprepared for the university program they were about to enter.

The Bridge Program established three goals which guided the researchers in this study. The goals were to 1) increase retention and graduation of Hispanic education students through culturally-sensitive mentoring, 2) improve students’ sense of self-esteem in both their academic and social lives, 3) develop students’ academic skills, especially writing (p. 774). In order to gain a better understanding of the experiences of the participants, the researchers fully immersed themselves into the program as both observers and participants. The Bridge Program went through the spring and summer with students engaging in a variety of academic, and social workshops. These workshops were designed to strengthen their academic skills, while challenging them to look reflectively on their culture and their lives in order to increase academic and personal confidence and learn to be mentors and role models (p. 776).

Major Findings

The authors organized their findings according to their initial three goals for the study, and found evidence that all three goals had been achieved. This research suggests that each goal was accomplished not one by one, but through a combination of efforts designed to achieve all three goals together.

Goal 1: To increase retention and graduation of Hispanic education students through culturally-sensitive mentoring. The Bridge Program students found that when their academic skills were developed and strengthened, they began to believe that could be successful at the university. Due to increased confidence in their academic skills and by finding value in their culture (and in themselves), all of the participants remained in the program and successfully transitioned to the university.

Goal 2: To improve students’ sense of self-esteem in both their academic and social lives. In having program mentors and presenters who were also Hispanic, the students were able to engage with people who understood their culture and who were highly accomplished in their work. In having cultural connections to the program speakers and mentors, the students began to reflect on their own lives and understandings of their culture. This self-reflection gave the students hope that they could be college graduates.

Goal 3: To develop students’ academic skills, especially writing. In addition to feeling more confident about themselves and their academic skills, the students also noted how quickly their academic skills had developed through the Bridge Program. In this program, the students didn’t just learn to be better writers, but also learned how to think critically and reflect about life, culture, and how to be a better teacher in the future. Students valued their Bridge experience and in follow-up research, the researchers found that all of the Bridge students were still in school and were doing well.

Policy Implications

Keim, McDermott, & Gerard (2010) found that with a two semester bridge program, students who were previously marginalized and felt underprepared for entering higher education developed both the academic and social skills to help them successfully stay in college, and hopefully, complete their degrees. By providing culturally-sensitive mentors, access to academic resources and guiding personal development and reflection, the Bridge Program helped to not only retain Hispanic education students, but also inspired students to be better teachers. With the continuing changes in racial demographics within the United States, it is crucial that programs like this Bridge Program, exist in order to provide future generations of Hispanics in the U.S. access to mentors and role models who share, understand, and value their culture.

With only 13% of U.S. Hispanics earning a bachelor’s degree (US Census, 2012), it is important to provide support—academic, personal, and arguably financial—to facilitate Hispanic students working towards degrees, especially in fields where there are considerable shortages, such as in teaching and nursing. This Bridge Program, like others at universities across the country, provide a service to students who often fall through the cracks at traditional colleges. With Hispanic students more likely to take a “time out” from their education due to financial constraints and family obligations, colleges and universities need to provide access to services that will strengthen the personal resolve, increase confidence, and further develop academic skills, so that students can return to higher education and succeed.

Increases in funding opportunities for low income students, along with work/study programs at college campuses could increase retention and graduation rates among Hispanic students. Financial assistance, paired with further developing academic skills through workshops, writing exercises, and challenging bridge curricula prior to entering higher education could also increase academic readiness and self-confidence. When students graduate from high school feeling underprepared to enter higher education, they are more likely to give up on their academic goals. If, however, students are challenged by teachers, encouraged by guidance counselors, and feel that they will be supported academically and financially when in college, they are more likely to be retained and graduate.

After years of working towards increased access to higher education, research has found that access to higher education is not enough to create more Hispanic college graduates. Beyond access, students must be academically, socially, and financially supported throughout their college experience if we are to graduate more teachers and mentors within the community who can inspire the next generation of U.S. Hispanics to work towards higher education. If the nation plans to follow through with President Obama’s goal to increase the country’s standing in regard to college degrees (the US is currently ranked 12 out of 36 “developed nations”), the number of Hispanic college high school and college graduates must be a priority (The College Board, 2011). Colleges and universities need to work alongside K-12 educators to create clear pathways to higher education through bridge programs, mentoring, and increased opportunities to attend academic skills and personal development workshops.

References

Fry, R. (2002). Latinos in higher education: Many enroll, too few graduate. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center, Pew Charitable Trusts of Philadelphia.

Keim, J., McDermott, J.C., & Gerard, M.R. (2010). A community college bridge program: Utilizing a group format to promote transitions for Hispanic students. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 34, p.769-783.

Sorensen, S., Brewer, D. J., Carroll, S. J., & Bryton, E. (1995). Increasing Hispanic
participation in higher education: A desirable public investment. Washington, DC: Rand.

The College Board. (2011). The college completion agenda: Latino edition, Retrieved from http://completionagenda.collegeboard.org/latino/

United States Census. (2012). Educational attainment in the United States: 2009 Population characteristics. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p20-566.pdf
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