National organization recognizes NAU success with Latino students

A national organization that advocates for higher education chose Northern Arizona University for a study of a select number of institutions that succeed in serving Latino students.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities identified NAU as one of 11 publicly funded institutions nationwide that have proven effective in graduating Latino students.

“You have demonstrated yourself as an improver,” said John Hammang, AASCU director of special projects.

In particular, Hammang noted NAU’s improved graduation rates of Latino students from 2002-05, which increased from 35.9 percent to 49.4 percent during that time period. The 49.4 percent graduation rate also compared favorably to the university’s overall graduation rate of 48.1 percent for 2005.

Beyond the numbers, the report identified three characteristics that underlie NAU’s success with Latino students: campus culture, the mix of students who attend NAU and campus leadership.

“The culture of the institution allows Latinos/Hispanics to find and/or create a niche on campus where they feel socially integrated,” according to the report, which focused on the Flagstaff campus.

The study group also determined that NAU’s “moderately high” admissions standards ensure that Latino students who choose NAU are likely to be academically prepared and motivated to achieve academically.

The report noted that faculty and staff are clear that student success is an institutional value and priority.

“Leadership from the president, who restructured the organization and reallocated resources to retention and graduation initiatives, has resulted in sustained and focused attention to these issues,” the report states.

The study group cited the working relationship between Academic Affairs and Enrollment Management and Student Affairs as especially noteworthy and “very impressive.”

When asked what seems to be making a difference in Latino student retention and graduation, the report notes that people cannot point to a single program or set of initiatives. While many initiatives to increase student success exist, the report acknowledges that none are targeted specifically at Latino students and they all have embedded goals for diverse learners.

The report does note that future success for Latino and Hispanic students at NAU depends on sufficient financial aid, creating programs that address the needs of Latino students and recruiting and retaining diverse members of the faculty, staff and administration.

The full report is available online.