06/20/2012 07:10 pm ET Updated Aug 20, 2012

Living the DREAM: How Universities Can Walk With Hispanic Students on the Journey to a College Degree


On June 16, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that may enable Hispanic youth to more readily seek a college education. Situated in a community with a higher-than-average growth rate among Hispanic people, Lipscomb has spent several years working in a difficult environment created by our national immigration policies. Within the law, we have adapted our response to this special group of people who come to us simply asking to be educated.

Our experience with these young people has been extremely positive -- both for them and the diversity they bring to our campus. We have learned a few things in the process that other universities may find helpful as they seek to accommodate these highly motivated Hispanic young people:

Sensitivity to first generation college students. Because many Hispanic students are the first in their families to pursue a college degree, they have no one to guide them through the maze of applications, exams, essays, interviews and other college admission steps available to other young people whose parents attended college. And the other side of that coin--their families cannot guide them through the challenges of adjusting to college life. For that reason, we have...

A campus liaison. Establish a branch of your university's multicultural office or an office for Hispanic students staffed by trained professionals tasked to enhance success in college for these young people who typically do not have knowledgeable support at home. This serves as an extremely valuable on-campus resource for students and their families, many who are overwhelmed with questions and in need of reassurance. This person can also enlighten campuses to the unique needs of this population.

Educate your campus. It is vital for universities to educate its faculty and staff about the specific challenges facing first generation college students. Share insight on topics such as the Hispanic family structure, cultural communication styles, etc. to ensure successful and healthy relationships between the faculty and staff and your students.

Strategically recruit. Just as you designate recruiters to cover specific territories or high schools, designate a Hispanic recruiter for this population. Develop a strategic plan for recruiting that will not only introduce Hispanic students to your university, but that will also build a relationship and create a foundation of trust with the students' families. Be sure to develop materials in Spanish as well. English may be the first language of these students, but it may not be for their parents.

Drive conversations of significance. Bring your local community together on your campus to discuss issues facing the Hispanic community. At Lipscomb, we host the Hispanic Forum, an annual summit that convenes leaders from the Nashville community to engage in deliberate dialogue about our city's future and to improve access to important resources for underserved Hispanic populations. Become a convener of significant conversations in your city or immediate community and be part of the solution for meeting the needs of this population.

Grants and scholarships. Consider establishing scholarships for first generation students, leadership scholarships and other institutional aid opportunities. Seek out corporate partnerships possibilities. Lipscomb has partnered with local hospitals to establish nursing scholarships as well as the financial sector and other corporations to fund scholarships for Hispanic students. With the President's new policy, it is likely that other corporate entities will see the opportunity to support education within the Hispanic marketplace.

Go to school -- understand the culture. While many traditional incoming college students look forward to the opportunity to be away from home, the Latino student may view that prospect differently. Families play a large role in the decision-making process. It is vital that we understand the unique aspects of this culture as we build relationships with them.

Be a voice in the Hispanic community. Act as a resource to your city's Hispanic community. Host groups on campus. Provide programs such as health fairs and wellness programs. Host academic enrichment programs targeted to this population. Join your local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Build the trust of this community by being involved in the programs that are significant to them and by creating opportunities for them to come to your campus.

They are our future. Experts predict that by 2050, Hispanics could make up as much as a third of the U.S. population. These smart, hard-working students will be an important part of the future of our universities and our country. We look forward to seeing the impact these students will have on our society as they experience the opportunities and bright future that a college education can help provide for them.