UTA study examines academic experiences of Latino students at HBCUs

ARLINGTON, Texas -- A new University of Texas at Arlington study reveals that Latino students experience academic and interpersonal validation from a variety of on- and off-campus individuals while enrolled in Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

But the study also shows there may be times when Latino students do not feel validated by the HBCU context, which can cause them to question their place on campus.

Taryn Ozuna Allen, assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, examines the issue in the paper, “(In)validation in the Minority: The Experiences of Latino Students Enrolled in an HBCU,” published online in the The Journal of Higher Education.

“This research is integral to higher education studies because some HBCUs are actively recruiting Latino students as they try to combat declining enrollment, economic challenges and for-profit competition,” Allen said. “It is important to understand the students’ experiences, and how we can best support them once they arrive on campus.”

Prior research examining the nation’s 105 HBCUs has largely focused on the experiences of African-American students and white students. Allen wanted to uniquely examine Latinos’ experiences, specifically HBCUs in Texas, where the state’s Latino population is quickly increasing. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Texas HBCUs enrolled 6,815 Latinos in 2001. During the 2011–2012 academic year, Latino student enrollment grew to 9,131 undergraduate students.

“As more Latinos enroll in some HBCUs, we need to further explore and understand their experiences,” said Allen, who joined the UTA faculty in 2013 and has frequently contributed to research on diversity and equity in education, and higher education trends and issues.

John Smith, interim dean of the College of Education, said Allen’s research is an example of data-driven discovery, one of four core themes of UTA’s Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.

“Dr. Allen’s research is critical to helping educators to identify the challenges and meet the needs of all students on increasingly diverse and changing campuses,” Smith said. “Every college student should have the opportunity to benefit from supportive faculty interactions and these strategies can potentially foster mentorship and academic validation.”   

For this study, Allen observed four female and four male Latino students who were enrolled in their second-to fifth-year at Texas Metropolitan University, a pseudonym used to maintain the actual institution’s confidentiality. Five of the students lived on the urban-area campus; and all, but three were first-generation college students or indicated they were from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Their majors included liberal arts, business, natural sciences, and fine arts.

Allen also conducted interviews, a questionnaire and used analytic memos to encourage the students to be active members of the university’s learning community and to overcome obstacles in their adjustment to college.

Among the findings, students recalled feeling validated by relationships with faculty members, campus administrators, and peers, who challenged the Latino students to strive and to accomplish more academically. Peers provided encouragement to each other through friendships and support groups.

Latino students benefited from the university’s small class sizes and prolonged courses, such as Saturday classes. One student, using the pseudonym George, said the smaller class sizes helped participants feel valued because professors were able to provide individualized assistance.

“They (TMU faculty members) gave me more attention than I had in all of grade school, junior high, and high school,” he said. “It’s small, but at the same time, I don’t have 125 people in one class the way a lot of my friends do, and you’re just a Social Security number there.”

Extracurricular responsibilities presented key barriers to academic validation. External influences, such as work responsibilities, limited the amount of time some students were on campus. Consequently, some students were unable to personally connect with their professors.

Impediments that students mentioned regarding interpersonal validation related to their minority status on-campus. Students wanted to see more Latinos on the campus website and brochures. A student, using the name Laura, described a personal struggle as an ethnic minority on campus.

“It is different coming from a school, like predominantly Mexican, Latinos,” she said. “From the majority to the minority is really different.”

Laura expressed feelings of loneliness and marginalization in her first year. She recognized she represented an ethnic subgroup on campus, and that status caused her to feel inferior to her peers. In her second year, Laura was able to secure on-campus employment to slowly connect to staff members and students, but she depended most on her mother’s support as she pursued her degree.

Similar to previous research demonstrating the importance of Latino parents and family members on Latino students’ aspirations, choice, and persistence, this study revealed the importance of family in offering academic and interpersonal validation.

Allen said she hopes her research will assist HBCUs who implement recruitment strategies to attract prospective Latino students.

“This study sheds light on some of the benefits and challenges Latino students can encounter at HBCUs,” Allen said. “As a result, HBCU faculty and administrators can explore whether these issues are occurring on their campus and then work to address them by doing such things as developing and implementing cross cultural programs, supporting Latino-based organizations, offering materials in Spanish, particularly for bilingual parents, and promoting a sense of community.”

She added: “These initiatives will not only validate the Latino students currently enrolled at the HBCU, but also accurately portray the student body.”

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a R-1 Carnegie “highest research activity” institution of more than 53,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times’ 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.