Hispanic population rises at K-State despite overall enrollment decline

Despite a total decrease in enrollment, the population of Hispanic students at Kansas State University has increased by 4 percent from last year. (Archive Photo by Evert Nelson | Collegian Media Group)

Hispanic enrollment is on the rise at Kansas State University despite an overall decrease in total enrollment, according to numbers from the Office of the Registrar.

As previously reported by the Collegian, K-State has seen a steady drop in enrollment numbers since 2014, with the current student population decreasing by 2.8 percent — over 600 students — since last year.

However, the Hispanic student population has increased by 4 percent, or 62 students. The Office of Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs indicated this increase was expected.

“We are specifically focusing in on Hispanic students — Latino students — because of the demographics of our state,” said Pat Bosco, vice president of student life and dean of students. ”While most cohorts in the state of Kansas are decreasing or are flat, most of the Latino enrollments are increasing throughout the state.”

According to the U.S. Census, Kansas has a Hispanic or Latino population of roughly 11 percent. In 2018, K-State had roughly 7 percent of its population identify as Hispanic or Latino.

The diversity office and other administrative bodies at K-State have recently pushed for more accessibility for Hispanic students, including using Spanish for enrollment, implementing programs to help minority student retention and conducting outreach to high school counselors.

“I would ask my high school teachers in Dodge City if I could come and talk to their students about K-State … then Dean Bosco approached me and said, ‘I heard you are doing these things and I need you to do them for me officially,’” Madai Rivera, assistant director of student engagement, said. “We didn’t start everything. We had programs in place that already supported Latino students, but I think he just wanted something extra.”

This “something extra” came in the form of a “wish list” Rivera created. It included handout materials that came in Spanish and a request for the K-State website to also support the language.

“I explained that, while most of the students that we are recruiting are bilingual, their families are not,” Rivera said.

Adrian Rodriguez, associate vice president of student life for diversity and multicultural student affairs, said Rivera’s work is focused on connecting to Hispanic families.

“You have to create these connections and have these very focused and intentional conversations,” Rodriguez said. “That is what Madai and others do.”

These bilingual conversations are happening across the United States; K-State’s recruiting office has dedicated posts in major cities such as Denver, Chicago and the Kansas City area.

When talking with Hispanic and Latino families, Rivera said there are delicate questions to answer regarding safety, money, resources and citizenship. Many students pursuing post-secondary education from a Latino household are first-generation students or are from a family educated in a different country.

“When you are the first in your family, the questions are different,” Rivera said. “They really don’t have a deep understanding of how college works in the United States. When you are with an undocumented family, the questions pile up more. ‘Am I able to enroll, can I get scholarships,’ and the answers are yes, yes, yes. But of course, as an undocumented student, they don’t know that.”

Bosco said a primary concern for these families is paying for a college education.

“The number one issue we deal with for families choosing colleges is financing,” Bosco said, “and the families want this option of education.”

While working with families in the southwest corner of Kansas, Debra Bolton, director of intercultural learning and academic success, said she saw a common trend in the families and the schools.

“The number one thing that my 20 years of research told me was that these families’ top priority is education,” Bolton said. “But what they didn’t know was how to navigate that.”

Bolton said Hispanic families would either avoid financial conversations or be ignored due to the language barrier present. However, inclusive efforts from K-State and other institutions have still contributed to an increase in enrollment.

“You’ll see this across the landscape,” Rodriguez said. “While you’ll see a decrease in numbers nationwide, this isn’t just a trend at K-State. Again, you’ll see Hispanic and Latino populations on the rise.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, university enrollment decreased by 5 percent between 2010 and 2015 across the nation, representing a drop of over 1 million students. However, national Hispanic enrollment has increased each year from 2000 to 2015.

“The numbers are there,” Rivera said. “Students are graduating from high school, but we wouldn’t have that record at K-State if we weren’t being responsive to them. We just wouldn’t.”

The Office of Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs has integrated Spanish into multiple stages of the recruitment process and reached out to non-profit organizations to raise money for Hispanic families looking to send their students to college.

“Today, we are celebrating record enrollment numbers with our Hispanic population, and just a couple years ago, we were doing the same with our black student population,” Bosco said. “I’m always dedicated to making minority voices be heard.”