Kansas higher education unites to support college-bound Hispanics

Event helps Hispanic students navigate and answer questions about college admission and enrollment.

Group in a classroom watching a presentation

“I decided to come because I didn’t know much about what I could do with college,” said Jhoab Orta, a Gardner Edgerton High School student. “I wanted to know how it could help me, about scholarships and how to apply.”

Orta, other high school students and their families attended the College Bound Latinos/Latinx of Kansas event on Saturday, Jan. 26, at the KU Edwards Campus in Overland Park. They came to learn about their options and the processes for going to college.

Students and their families check in to attend the College Bound Latinos/Latinx of Kansas event Saturday, Jan. 26 at the KU Edwards Campus.
Students and their families check in to attend the College Bound Latinos/Latinx of Kansas event Saturday, Jan. 26 at the KU Edwards Campus.

Jean Cantero can relate. Now an admissions counselor for Johnson County Community College, he was a first-generation Hispanic student. Cantero recalls navigating college selection, admission and enrollment. Now he and others are guiding more college-bound Latinos through the college-entrance processes.

“It’s incredibly important to see an event specifically for Hispanic students, with this many schools, this many organizations,” Cantero said. “It shows how dedicated we are to Hispanic students having the tools necessary to be successful in college.”

Representatives from Johnson County Community College, Kansas State University, KC Degrees, the University of Kansas and the Olathe Latino Coalition recently joined forces to offer that guidance. They co-sponsored, presented information and met with students and parents at the College Bound Latinos/Latinx of Kansas event.

“It’s a community event,” said Jim Terrones, Chairman of the Olathe Latino Coalition. “Partners coming together, rather than to duplicate.”

Breakout sessions included preparing for and taking the ACT and SAT exams, applying to college, scholarships and financial aid, and STEM majors. Another session covered the Degree in 3 program, a partnership between several Kansas City metro school districts, Johnson County Community College, Metropolitan Community College, Kansas City Kansas Community College and the KU Edwards Campus. The Degree in 3 program allows students to complete a KU bachelor’s degree within three years of high school graduation. The program can help students save money and stay close to home while earning their KU degree.

“The important thing is to get the word out with regards to what is available for these young folks getting prepared to go to college,” said Terrones. “There is a pathway, a method. It’s just as easy as asking for that information. We’re providing this environment to give them the opportunity at no cost to them to get all that information they need to prepare for college.”

Breakout sessions for the College Bound Latinos/Latinx of Kansas event included information on preparing for and taking ACT and SAT exams.
Breakout sessions for the College Bound Latinos/Latinx of Kansas event included information on preparing for and taking ACT and SAT exams.

The university and college representatives said Hispanic students and their parents ask nearly the same questions about college as other teenagers and adults on topics such as admissions, curriculum, affordability and processes. They benefit from additional guidance and information offered in Spanish and English.

In addition to potential language barriers, many college-bound Hispanics will be the first generation in their families to pursue higher education, said Cantero. This means their parents may not be familiar with applying to, attending and financing college. Events and other tailored information may help change that trend.

“Creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive experience and student body is a top priority,” said David Cook, vice chancellor of the KU Edwards Campus. “Events like this one and other information tailored to specific audiences can help us achieve that priority.”

The share of Hispanics ages 18 to 24 years old nationwide enrolled in postsecondary education grew from just 22 percent in 2000, to 39 percent in 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (PDF). Forty-one percent of all individuals ages 18 to 24 years old were enrolled in postsecondary education in 2016.

And it’s not just high school students navigating the college entrance decision and process. Adults are a growing portion of college students nationwide and locally. KC Degrees hoped to reach both age groups at the event.

“We are hoping that their parents will also be interested in going back to school,” said Alexis Villagran, college success navigator for KC Degrees. “Education is an investment for the entire family. One of the first roadblocks we have to get over is the system itself is hard to navigate. We present people with options. That’s what we’re here to do. Help adults go back to school.”

After two hours of information, questions and answers, the College Bound Latinos/Latinx of Kansas event met its goal for at least one attendee.

“I wanted to know what I could do, if I could go to college, and I found that I can,” said Orta.

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