We recently shared a conversation with Gregory Elliott, Ph.D. about the concept of mattering—why it’s important for college students to feel that they matter through community, and how schools can go about enabling that community.

While all students benefit from community and a sense of mattering, minority student populations (in particular) draw benefits from this. One population facing unique challenges today in America are the Latino students.

Latino Student Challenges

Community colleges serve as an important gateway to higher education for Latino students. Many attend community colleges—not just with the intention of completing short-term certificates or two-year degree programs, but also to prepare for four-year institutions. But, while 80% of Latino students at two-year schools intend to transfer, less than a quarter actually do.

That’s a bit of a discrepancy, which is often attributed to the unique set of challenges faces by Latino students in the United States.

Here are a few challenges unique to the population.

Alignment of Family Culture

Paul LeBlanc, Ph.D., President of Southern New Hampshire University explains:

“A lot of the language we use and the narratives we build to talk about education are very individualized. There’s a lot of Reach your individual potential, and Discover who you’re going to be. It tends to be very much about the individual at the heart of the narrative. For Latino students, that narrative, that kind of language, runs counter to a very strong sense of community and family where education becomes a means of giving back and supporting the family [not a means to an individual goal].”

And this disconnect is important. Framing their academic experience in a way that resonates with them, culturally, is important for the success of Latino students. Research has shown that their persistence is highly influenced by whether or not the students have a sense of cultural belonging.

Less Time to be on Campus

The vast majority of Latino students at community colleges (96.6% in this study) spend several hours per week on family responsibilities, and nearly three quarters of them hold jobs in addition to school—making it likely that they are only on campus part time.

As a result of spending less time on campus, they are not as familiar with the programs and services available to them, and they are less likely to seek assistance from instructors and counselors on a regular basis. Given that research has found the highest predictor in Latino student GPA to be the frequency with which students met with instructors outside of class, less frequent meetings are detrimental to these students’ success.

Alleviating Challenges for Latino students

These challenges are certainly not the only hurdles that Latino students face at a college or university, but they’re important to mention because there are ways to alleviate them. Your school may consider the following tips enable and encourage community for the Latino student population:

1. Facilitate easy, convenient communication between students and instructors, counselors and other faculty.

Interacting with faculty outside of class plays a key role in both GPA and persistence, particularly for Latino students—schools need to encourage these interactions. And, given that the students often have limited time to spend on campus, institutions should specifically encourage interaction and relationship building with convenient, intuitive online tools that blend seamlessly into their current schedules and technology habits. Look for community building tools that facilitate easy communication outside of the typical classroom/course structure—relationships should continue beyond a single semester.

2. Connect students with peers through affinity groups.

Bring together newly arrived first-generation students, for example, with each other, as well as with upperclassmen that are also first-generation students, to help them realize, Hey, I’m not alone in this. Encouraging interaction among affinity groups like this, in person and online, will help students successfully transition to college while also providing a valuable support system throughout. Community is the antithesis of, I don’t belong.

Look for technology that allows students to create and lead their own affinity groups, while also easily finding existing groups through robust search features and built-in discoverability.

3. Include family in the academic experience.

The strongest predictor of Latino student persistence is the support of family and friends. Given that it may be difficult for family members to actively participate in life on campus, institutions should consider how technology can enable the inclusion of family members in the students’ academic experience and academic community. Leblanc agrees: “I could imagine using community-building tools to give families access to the educational space.”

How to Build Community, and Help Students Matter

Like Latino students, there are other minority student groups that can have trouble finding their niche in school and developing the relationships necessary for academic success. To hear more about the specific challenges of first-generation students and online learners, in addition to Latino students, check out our latest eBook, Community in Higher Ed: Helping Students to Feel that they Matter. It also includes actionable tips for encouraging community in these student populations to help them find that critical sense of belonging.

Grab your copy of the eBook and you’ll also hear more from sociologist and expert on the concept of mattering: Dr. Elliott, Professor at Brown University. In addition, LeBlanc will share about his experience as a first-gen student.

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