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FSU Takes Action to Help Latinos

December 23, 2018

FITCHBURG -- A first-year Latino student at Fitchburg State University knew he had to register for spring classes, but didn’t know how to get started.

School officials understand that those who are the first in their families to attend college don’t always have the same passed down knowledge about how to navigate college and are often on their own to figure it out. To address that, the university is using state grant money to help first-year male Latino students stay in school and earn their degrees.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to begin to provide services that we feel will make our students more successful,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Alberto Cardelle, whose office is overseeing efforts supported by a state grant.

Mentors funded through a grant from the state Department of Higher Education connected the student with an advisor who helped him register for classes and change to a major that was better suited for him.

Fitchburg State plans to use the $61,000 grant to improve retention and graduation rates for male Latino students during the school year and look at how the university can build a supportive environment for its growing Latino population.

“We need to be the ones ready for them,” said Sean Goodlett, assistant to the provost for student success, who is among university officials leading the effort.

The funding the university received is from a Performance Incentive Fund grant, which is available to the 12 state universities and community colleges. They support efforts to close opportunity and achievement gaps, improve college completion rates, and make college more accessible to Massachusetts residents.

At Fitchburg State, faculty and peer mentors can provide interaction and support for first-year male Latino students and help them navigate college life, Goodlett said.

The university received the grant money and began faculty mentorship in October, he said. Student mentors will begin the spring semester.

There are four faculty members and staff from the Provost’s office are serving as mentors, including Cardelle and Goodlett.

The mentors are either fluent in Spanish or have Spanish language skills, Goodlett said.

Among the 720 first-year students, about 50 are male Latino students. Those students are divided up amongst the mentors.

Cardelle has been working with five students. He likes the individual support he can provide.

“Some students like to know they have someone to talk to,” Cardelle said. “Others need more support.”

Students from his group have asked for help with scheduling or how to register for next semester’s classes, he said. One talked with Cardelle about career interests and the provost recommended an internship.

The support and interventions are geared to help first-year students continue with their studies.

Fitchburg State’s overall retention rate, which is a measure of a student advancing from the spring of their freshman year to the fall of their sophomore year, is about 75 percent, Goodlett said. For male Latino students, the retention rate can be as low as 65 percent.

The university is doing well for other student demographics, like African American males, he said, but there is an achievement gap for male Latino students.

“Right now if we can change the story for five or 10 students, that is important,” Goodlett said.

School officials say focusing on this population of students and providing these supports are in response to changing demographics across the state, in Fitchburg, and university.

“Our region here is changing rapidly and the demographically like the whole country,” Cordelle said. “The community has changed faster than the institution and we need to be proactive.”

Within the next dozen years, Latino students could represent a quarter of the university’s student population, Goodlett said. If Fitchburg State is strategic about enrollment, that could happen sooner.

Students from Puerto Rico and of Mexican descent are the top Latino groups at the university, he said.

A goal is to have the largest enrollment of Latino students among the nine state universities, Goodlett said, which would put Fitchburg State on track to seek status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, which is similar designation as Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The university’s work to help first-year male Latino students also aligns with its larger, ongoing efforts to improve the first year experience for all students, Goodlett said.

Those efforts include a first year seminar, academic coaching, and workshops to develop skills like time management and goal setting.

He also mentioned the tutoring center that helps at about a thousand undergraduate students throughout the year.

Follow Mina on Twitter @mlcorpuz

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