Hispanic students at UK rise in retention rates



By Kate Carpenter

As UK looks to improve its retention rates, one group in particular is standing out in national numbers.

At UK, only 1.5 percent of the student population is made up of Hispanic students. According to a study by The American Enterprise Institute, Hispanic students consistently lag behind white students in graduation rates.

Roger Sugarman, Director of Institutional Research, said studies have been done on graduation rates of Hispanic students. The first group was based on the 1999, 2000 and 2001 freshman classes. The graduation rate for this set of studies was 49 percent. The graduation rate for white students was 61 percent.

The second set studied the 2001, 2002 and 2003 freshman classes. The graduation rate at this point was 53 percent, a 4 percentage point increase, which Sugarman said is no small feat.

“What’s particularly gratifying is if you look at the gap between overall graduation rate and the Hispanic graduation rate, it has narrowed,” Sugarman said.  “It began at 11 percent for the first study, and we have found that it has narrowed to 6.5 percentage points.”

Chris Cardenas, an undecided freshman of Mexican heritage, said the negative statistics about Hispanics graduating college were not surprising to him. Both his parents went to college, but didn’t finish. His neighbors, who are Puerto Rican, also did not finish. In his entire extended family, only one person finished college, and his father has now gone back to finish his studies.

“I think people use the statistics to fuel the stereotype of Hispanics not graduating college,” Cardenas said. “This could be a reason why there are so few (Hispanics) in college. And when we hear these things, we think, why should we even try?”

Changing those numbers is not a small task, said Vice President of Institutional Diversity J.J. Jackson.

“It’s a national problem with both blacks and Hispanics, and it is compounded in Kentucky because there are so many fewer Hispanics in the state,” Jackson said. “The solutions would have to include more recruitment and a cultural change in the area and the state.”

UK can’t change the demographics of Kentucky, Jackson said, but it can change the current situation through improving the graduation and retention rates of the Hispanic population living in the state.

“It sounds simplistic, but it really isn’t easy to do,” she said. “It would require many different institutions coming together, including civil, education and commerce divisions to talk about a solution.”

One important factor in holding Hispanics back from obtaining a degree is a negative attitude, Cardenas said. If one generation could raise those numbers, Cardenas believes the cycle could be broken.

“Giving people a chance would raise numbers,” Cardenas said. “When Hispanics read negative numbers about themselves, it makes them not even want to come to college. If more Hispanics my age would finish college, it would help their eventual children become motivated to graduate college.”