Once area Latino students decide to become engaged with the Latino Cohort at Western Nevada College, history has shown that those students are well on their way to reaching their higher education goals and a desirable career path.
The college’s academic support program helps many first-generation college students overcome potential higher education barriers to earn an associate’s degree, continue their education at a four-year college, and make the transition into the work force. The 4-year-old Student Services initiative at WNC encourages college enrollment, completion of courses and degrees, and campus involvement.
Statistically, cohort members have finished 94 percent of the courses they’ve enrolled in since the program launched in 2010. Fifty-two percent have graduated with degrees, compared with the national average of 20 percent.
“This program has increased awareness among the Latino students and their families about the importance of completing a college degree,” said Lupe Ramirez, WNC’s Latino student outreach coordinator and assistant to the dean.
John Kinkella, dean of Student Services at Western Nevada College, said the cohort provides the college with a successful model to duplicate so more students can benefit from it.
“Western Nevada College’s Latino Cohort Program was created to enhance the college-graduation rate among our fastest-growing underrepresented minority population,” Kinkella said. “This cohort program has proven so successful that the cohort model will now be expanded to a college-wide initiative called the ‘Guided Pathway to Success’.”
The 2013 Latino Cohort and their families attended a luncheon on campus to celebrate the new beginning, receiving insight and inspiration from previous cohort members.
“The cohort gives you that support system,” said keynote speaker Frankie Perez, a 2013 WNC graduate. “If I needed help in anything, they would be the first ones to jump in to help me,”
Perez was a member of WNC’s first Latino Cohort and will continue his education at the University of Nevada, Reno, this fall, with long-range dreams of becoming a state senator.
Maira Ibarra, already a student at UNR and nearing completion of a civil engineering degree, also spoke to the 2013 cohort members, telling the incoming freshmen how cohort benefitted her.
“I was very shy. I was able to open up to people and learned how to navigate the higher education system,” she said.
Ibarra, the winner of the Nevada System of Higher Education 2012 Regents’ Scholarship for WNC, advised the new cohort members to become active on campus.
April Castaneda said the cohort transformed her from a struggling high school student to a successful college student.
“I like it a lot because in high school I would have really low grades, and here, it’s required to be high, and I’ve been doing well each semester,” Castaneda said. “The cohort encourages you to keep going for it.”
Ramirez doesn’t hide her excitement for the current cohort students.
“It’s a very impressive group of students. (They) are starting in the fall with college-level classes,” Ramirez said. “Among these students, their academic goals include marine biologist, pediatricians, doctors, nurses, business majors and many others.”
High school seniors are introduced to the Latino Cohort through WNC’s Bridge to Success outreach program. Bridge to Success helps students make the transition from high school to college by meeting personally with WNC advisors numerous times during their senior year to walk through the college-admission process in a timely manner. WNC student services staffers visit all the high schools in the college’s seven-county service area numerous times each spring to work with students on-site, eliminating the potential difficulty of travel to the college for some students.
For freshman Francisco Angulo, the cohort has eliminated the stress that most students feel as their first year of college nears.
“They have helped me getting my classes (together) and registering,” said Angulo, a Carson High School graduate. “I was a little stressed at first, but I’m not even worried about college right now.
“The cohort makes me want to meet new people and get to know them.”
Since the Latino Cohort’s creation, Ramirez has noticed that parents have become more involved in their children’s transition to college.
“The parents have demonstrated their support by taking time off from work and making it to the mandatory parent/student conferences we have held during the summer,” Ramirez said.
Kinkella and Ramirez have received similar responses from the parents about the program.
“They want their sons and daughters to get an education and to commit to their education,” Ramirez said. “They don’t want to see them wasting their time and money. They believe in their capacity to obtain a degree and want their sons and daughters to be able to work in a better-paying job.
“It’s obvious that the parents want a better future for these students.”