Posted: August 29, 2013
As the fall semester begins at WNC campuses, one group of students is already focused about their classes and their future. Students in the 2013 Latino Cohort met during the summer to prepare for their fall classes. 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 Latino students overcome potential higher education barriers in order to earn an associate degree, continue their education at a four-year college or transition into the workforce. The 4-year-old Latino Cohort program 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, and 52 percent graduated with degrees, compared to 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 and director of intercollegiate athletics at WNC, 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 started to promote 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 cohort and their families attended a luncheon in WNC's Community Hall in August, receiving insight and inspiration from previous cohort members.
"The cohort gives you that support system. If I needed help in anything, financial aid wasn't coming in, or whatever, they would be the first ones to jump in to help me," said keynote speaker Frankie Perez, a 2013 WNC graduate.
Perez was a member of WNC's first Latino Cohort and will continue his education at the University of Nevada, Reno with long-range plans 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 group, telling the incoming freshmen what the cohort did for 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 into 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. "And the cohort encourages you to keep going for it."
Ramirez doesn't hide the excitement that she has for the latest group of students that make up the cohort.
"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 high school outreach program, "Bridge to Success." It helps students transition from high school to college with a developmental, noncredit English class, as well as a three-credit college preparatory class to improve study skills.
For freshman Francisco Angulo, the cohort has eliminated the stress 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 we 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 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 working in a better-paying job.
"The parents are willing to continue working hard to help their children complete an educational plan. It’s obvious that the parents want a better future for these students."