Q&A: Serving the Hispanic population

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Since 1985, the National Community College Hispanic Council (NCCHC) — an affiliate council of the American Association of Community Colleges — has worked to advance the number of Hispanics in leadership positions in community colleges by promoting and providing professional development opportunities, such as its annual Leadership Symposium and the Leadership Fellows Program.

In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, NCCHC Board Chair Jose Fierro (president/superintendent of Cerritos College in California) and Chair-Elect Mike Muñoz (interim superintendent/president at California’s Long Beach City College) discuss our nation’s demographics, serving the needs of Latino students and developing leaders to help Latino students succeed.

Why is it important for community college leaders to understand the needs of Latino students?

Jose Fierro and Mike Muñoz

The U.S. Hispanic population reached 62.1 million individuals in 2020, which comprises just under 20% of all individuals living in the United States. In other words, Latinos are the second-largest ethnic group, only behind white Americans. And since Latinos continue to be the fastest-growing demographic in the United States, this percentage will only continue to increase over time. In states like California, Texas and New Mexico, Latinos comprise the largest demographic group, providing insight on the future of the United States as we become an increasingly diverse nation.

It is imperative to find a productive way to address the academic needs of our Latino student population. Latinos are entering the workforce in larger numbers than any other racial group, and meeting their educational needs is vital for economic growth across the nation. Higher education paves the way for upward social mobility for Latino students. Those students will also have an increasingly important impact to the political landscape as we move into the future. One example is a new, young group of Latinos across the nation who will soon be eligible to vote. Some of these individuals may have parents who did not have the ability to vote or communicate in ways that allowed their voices to be heard.

How can college leaders be better informed and prepared with regard to serving Latino student populations?

The work begins before college leaders even arrive to serve at their respective institutions. It is important that we advocate to national organizations and boards asking them to review and update their desired hiring characteristics that higher education institutions look to as a national model. By incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion considerations into hiring profiles, institutions are able to ascertain whether the candidates seeking to become new presidents, executives, faculty and other college leaders are willing to engage in professional development that leads into academic and community support for students of color to be successful. From that point forward, college leaders can work together to continue, and in some cases, begin the crucial conversations that need to take place in order to best serve our diverse student populations.

It is important for national organizations to stay mindful that a month of advocacy — such as Hispanic Heritage Month — is not the only time where students of color need our voices, support and resources. The work is continuous and far-reaching.

What resources are available for community college presidents to help them navigate toward success for Latino student populations?

There are several growing networks that offer a wealth of information, best practices and mentorship opportunities for community college presidents to better serve Latino student populations and all students of color. Some of these networks include the NCCHC, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), the Aspen Institute and the Community College Research Center (CCRC). Statewide organizations — such as the College Futures Foundation and the Campaign for College Opportunity in California, as well the California Community Colleges Organización de Latina/o/x Empowerment, Guidance and Advocacy for Success (CCCOLEGAS), which is an affiliated organization of NCCHC — help us to hone in on the more specific needs of our local communities.

And speaking of the local community: engaging directly with the students, local residents, high school partners, local elected officials and workforce and community leaders is vital. In fact, as a community college president, consistently listening to and engaging with the local community is the only way to truly know which supports are needed, and just as importantly, whether or not the supports that your institution offers is making a difference for students of color.

What should readers know about NCCHC?

NCCHC is committed to delivering high-quality leadership development experiences and providing Hispanics with opportunities to continue personal and professional growth. The NCCHC Leadership Fellow Program, established over 36 years ago, is a highlight of the services that we offer to college leaders nationwide. Intentional mentorship is just one component of a year-long training program that is designed for community college educators whose career interest focuses on assuming increasingly responsible administrative positions, with the ultimate goal of becoming an executive leader of a community college. About one-third of Latino community college presidents across the country are NCCHC Fellows.

For more information on NCCHC, visit www.ncchc.com.

About the Author

Martha Parham
Dr. Martha Parham is senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.