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Colleges gaining Hispanic flavor

Hispanic enrollment in Florida's state schools is nearly triple what it was in 1990.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published August 10, 2006


ORLANDO - Fifteen years ago, the University of Central Florida didn't have a single Latino sorority or fraternity. Today, with Hispanic student enrollment more than quadruple what it was in 1990, there are four.

"You can definitely tell that the school is trying to welcome Hispanic students," said 20-year-old Sasha Perez-Loor, vice president of recruitment and expansion for UCF's Diversified Greek Council and a member of UCF's first Latina sorority.

UCF now has 5,500 Hispanic students - second in the state only to Florida International University. The University of Florida and the University of South Florida aren't far behind.

And the surge is more than just a reflection of the state's rising Hispanic population.

Hispanic enrollment in Florida's 11 universities is nearly triple what it was in 1990, going from less than 17,000 to 46,520 this past fall, according to the latest figures. That's a 174 percent increase. During the same period, Florida's population of Hispanic residents increased by 90 percent.

The boom in Latino students also dramatically outpaced the state university system's enrollment growth, which was 60 percent between 1990 and 2005.

The result: Hispanic students now represent 16.2 percent of overall enrollment in Florida universities - nearly mirroring the state's resident Hispanic population of 19 percent. Latino Greek organizations and Hispanic student groups that didn't exist a few years ago continue to grow. Multicultural events on campuses draw big crowds.

Administrators say the changes prove the effectiveness of their aggressive recruiting efforts, from bilingual financial aid packets to summer campus tours for Hispanic middle school students.

"The growth has been very intentional," said Zina Evans, UF's admissions director and assistant provost. "It definitely is a conscious effort."

Those efforts are intensifying.

This spring, legislators set aside $120-million for college financial aid and $6.5-million in scholarships for first-generation college students - money that university system Chancellor Mark Rosenberg said will strengthen minority recruiting.

Today in Orlando, the board that oversees Florida universities will consider a request for millions more in taxpayer dollars to improve retention and graduation rates at USF, UCF and Florida International University.

Statistics show that graduation and retention rates are lower among minority students than among white students. In many cases it is because these students are the first in their family to attend college, and they face financial limitations that require juggling classes with jobs, Rosenberg said.

"There's no doubt that retention is more difficult for some of these students," he said. "We have to focus not just on getting them in but on keeping them in and getting them through."

Before becoming chancellor, Rosenberg was a longtime administrator at FIU, which traditionally housed the majority of Hispanic students.

FIU, in Miami, still has the highest number in the state - more than 20,000 - but no longer has the majority. More than half of the state's Hispanic students attend institutions like USF, FSU and FAU.

FAU, just north of Broward County in Boca Raton, had the most dramatic increase. There were just 830 Hispanic students in 1990. Today there are more than 4,000.

USF's Hispanic enrollment of roughly 4,500 represents an almost 150 percent increase from 1990, and administrators expect this fall's numbers to be even higher.

"We are a very big community on campus," said USF student Jeanette Garcia of Fort Lauderdale, incoming president of the Latin American Student Association. The group's membership more than doubled since she joined in spring 2005, to more than 100 students.

"I can see it in the faces when I walk around campus," said Garcia, 20.

USF admissions director Bob Spattig said the institution's growth is a result of both long-running programs and new initiatives.

The state's Bright Futures scholarship program, which pays full or partial tuition for tens of thousands of students who meet SAT and GPA requirements, helps Hispanic students who could not otherwise afford college.

ENLACE is a 5-year-old partnership involving USF and Hillsborough Community College that helps usher the county's Hispanic middle and high school students into college.

USF now publishes financial aid guides in both Spanish and English.

And for the past year, officials have recruited heavily from high schools with large populations of minority students who are the first in their families to go to college.

Janice Finney, associate FSU admissions director, said FSU recruits heavily in South Florida, which she calls fertile ground.

Hispanic students at the Tallahassee school number almost 4,000 - compared to about 1,200 in 1990.

"As you get more and more Hispanic students, they go home and talk about FSU with their friends and family," Finney said.

FSU has a recruiter of Hispanic descent who speaks fluent Spanish, which helps establish relationships with parents.

"So many of these students are first-generation students and they need a helping hand," Finney said. "We know they can be successful, and we help them get there."

UF hosts a Hispanic student recruitment conference every February and March for 7th-graders through high school juniors and their parents, Evans said. Every summer, high school counselors send their top Hispanic students to a two-day campus program where they learn about scholarships and financial aid.

"The more these students are aware of the opportunities that exist, the more students will apply," Evans said. "We need to be in there now, and we need to be in there early."

Time researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3403 or svansickler@sptimes.com.

HISPANIC ENROLLMENT:

Hispanic enrollment in Florida universities has exploded since 1990, much more dramatically than overall enrollment and more than the increase in black student enrollment:

 

1990 2000 2005 % increase

1990- 2005

Hispanic enrollment 16,983 33,703 46,520 173.9

Black enrollment 17,690 34,654 40,325 128

Overall enrollment 179,775 240,753 287,373 59.8

 

Individual universities also have seen dramatic increases

 

1990 2000 2005 % increase

1990-2005

FAU 830 2,416 4,083 391.9

UNF 188 535 869 362.2

UCF 1,252 3,497 5,584 346

UWF 117 288 477 307.7

FSU 1,126 2,542 3,756 233.6

UF 1,884 4,364 5,466 190.1

USF 1,811 3,357 4,505 148.8

FIU 9,631 16,295 20,859 116.6

FAMU 144 12 185 28.5

FGCU - 284 664 -

NCF - - 72 -

 

Source: Florida Board of Governors