Helping Latino Students Clear the Path to College

Armstrong sophomore Claudia Alvarado is one of more than 472 Latino students experiencing success on campus this semester.

However, this Biology major’s journey to higher education wasn’t necessarily a smooth one. Originally from Peru, Claudia’s parents couldn’t speak English and were largely unaware of how to guide their daughter to the path of higher education.

“I never had anyone tell me what I should be doing to get ahead,” she said.

Thanks to Armstrong’s extensive network of support for Latino students, Claudia is now excelling in the university’s Science and Technology Expansion Program (STEP), where she works as a microbiology laboratory assistant analyzing how pathogens affect cells. After graduation, she plans to go to medical school and become a family practitioner.

Due to Armstrong’s strategic outreach and retention efforts, talented Latino students like Claudia are able to thrive, forging a path to success at Armstrong. The university’s Hispanic student enrollment currently represents over six percent (6.3%)of Armstrong’s student population.  As a testament to university’s ongoing commitment to Latino students, the graduation rate for Armstrong’s Hispanic students exceeds national and overall campus averages.      

Since 2003, when Armstrong established the successful Hispanic Outreach & Leadership at Armstrong (HOLA) program, the number of Hispanic students enrolled on campus has doubled. Over the past decade, Armstrong has also received major grants from The Goizueta Foundation, which enables the university to provide need-based scholarship assistance to Hispanic students through HOLA.

In addition, Armstrong is taking a leadership role in supporting Latino families in coastal Georgia and expanding higher education opportunities for students. In October of 2012, Armstrong President Linda Bleicken joined forces with local college presidents, area public education leaders and partners from business and human service agencies to announce the launch of the College Access Mentoring Information and Outreach (CAMINO) program, designed to double the number of Latino students who enroll and complete college in the Coastal Empire by 2015.

The project focuses on Latino communities in the four Southeast Georgia counties surrounding Savannah: Chatham, Liberty, Tattnall, and Toombs counties – an area with a total population of approximately 26,000 Latinos.  The CAMINO program launch followed on the heels of Lumina Foundation’s national announcement of its Latino Student Success efforts, including a $600,000 investment in CAMINO as the only program selected in Georgia.

“The Goizueta Scholarship is very important because it supports first-generation college students of Hispanic descent,” said Melody Rodriguez, founder and director of Armstrong’s HOLA program. “These scholarships make college possible for many Latino students.”

According to U.S. Census data from 2011, Latinos represent the largest and fastest-growing population group in the United States. Local census data show that between 2000 and 2010, the Latino population in coastal Georgia grew by more than 78 percent, far surpassing the growth rate of any other ethnicity. Savannah-Chatham experienced a Latino population growth rate of 166 percent, but Latino students are not enrolling in and graduating from college at the same rate as their non-Latino peers.  

“We’re proud of our ongoing support for Latino students at Armstrong,” said Rodriguez. “We are committed to helping them reach their fullest potential.”