How bilingual support can reverse COVID enrollment trends

SUNY Orange will launch 'Juntos,' a bilingual family orientation program

COVID has caused a drop in Hispanic student enrollment at SUNY Orange, as it has at many other schools, and the community college plans to use grant funding to reverse the trend.

The school, where Hispanic enrollment has been as high as 30% in recent years, was just awarded a $2.94 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Hispanic Serving Institutions Program.

College leaders plan to add more bilingual student services, among other initiatives, says Erika Hackman, vice president for academic affairs.

“What we’re seeing is that students of color are the largest group that’s not coming back to us,” Hackman says. “This grant is an excellent timely opportunity for us to figure out new ways to reach out to that population and provide the wraparound supports to help students get started and finish.”

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This school year, about 25% of the college population identifies as Hispanic. Administrators intend to use the grant funding to “amplify and accelerate” guided pathways at the college in an effort to increase engagement, persistence and completion, Hackman says.

SUNY Orange first launched its pathways program two years ago, and now plans to incorporate more bilingual services into onboarding programs and the school’s new academic coaching initiative, Hackman says.

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Campus surveys have shown students are generally satisfied with the instructional supports but want more help with financial planning, time management, and other similar skills, Hackman says.

“These skills are hallmarks of the types of support academic coaches are trained to provide,” Hackman says.

The school is also going to launch a bilingual family orientation program called “Juntos,” which means “together” in Spanish. The idea came when administrators noticed how engaged families were in the campus tours given in English and Spanish by a bilingual admissions counselor.

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“We want to bring families into the education experience and have them intentionally connected to it,” Hackman says.

The grant will also fund deeper analysis into student success data to pinpoint the gaps in outcomes and to provide cultural-responsiveness training for faculty and staff.

“Sometimes it’s the small choices that unintentionally miss the opportunity to connect with students,” Hackman says. “We know that when students see themselves in the text and examples that are used in classroom learning, it motivates them to stay and complete the course.”

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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