Santa Monica College has launched a drive to increase the number of Latino students on campus and to offer additional support to help them succeed.
The drive, which started this month, is being run by the college's Hispanic Students Center which has received nearly $37,000 in school funds this year to organize a variety of activities, including mentor programs, cultural events, field trips and essay contests.
"The idea is to take a more active roll in trying to increase the success rates of Hispanic students in higher education," said Rocky Young, the college's assistant superintendent of education.
School officials said that Latinos account for 11.7% of the college's 22,000 students while the population of Los Angeles County is 35% Latino.
Lack of Role Models
To attract more Latino students, school officials said they are doing a more effective job of selling the two-year college by meeting with students on a regular basis at local high schools.
The college also plans to hold a series of workshops to give Latino students from Santa Monica, Fairfax, Los Angeles and Venice high schools a taste of college life. The young recruits will be taken on tours of the campus by Latino college students serving as role models.
"The lack of role models has always been a big problem for many Hispanic students," said John Gonzalez, a college counselor who was recently named director of the Hispanic Student Center. "We will match the high school students with college students who will be able to give first-hand experience of the college. It will expose them to college life."
The educational workshops and other programs are needed to combat the serious dropout problem in the Latino community, said Maria Martinez, a 22-year-old student and vice president of the college's Club Latin United for Education.
"There is a real problem in the high schools--students are dropping out like flies," she said. "The (role model) program would certainly help. I would like to encourage others to continue in school."
The new series of programs at Santa Monica College marks a turning point for the Hispanic Student Center, a five-year-old group run by the counseling office which has sponsored cultural events on campus. Gonzalez said the center will have its own office and staff when the college's new student center is completed later this year.
In the meantime, Gonzalez said he has been meeting with Latino student groups trying to enlist more support. One plan would encourage instructors and members of the staff to become mentors for some of the college students, helping to guide their careers. "The college should take a more active role in encouraging this type of relationship between its instructors and staff," he said.
Another proposal calls for workshops for Latino college students on financial aid, career guidance, job interviews and four-year university transfers. The center is also planning to sponsor a week in May celebrating the ethnic diversity of all the students on campus, and a Cinco de Mayo essay contest with cash prizes.
"It's a dual role of attracting students and then motivating them to explore all the options open to them," he said.