Columbia Basin College tops in state for associate degrees to Hispanics

Tri-City HeraldMay 30, 2014 

A national education association has identified Columbia Basin College as awarding the most associate degrees to Hispanics in the state.

The Pasco college also is among the top in the state for enrolling the most Hispanic students.

The 226 Hispanic students earning their associate degrees during the 2011-12 academic year at CBC make up about 21 percent of that year's graduates, according to Excelencia in Education. Full data from the 2012-13 academic year isn't yet available, education officials said.

CBC's recognition is part of a national report recently released by the organization and intended to demonstrate the importance of further engaging Hispanics in higher education.

"America's success is intertwined with the educational success of Latinos, and that takes leadership not only in Washington, (D.C.), but in statehouses and communities all across the country," said U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, in a release.

CBC officials said there is still more to be done to better serve the Hispanic community in the Mid-Columbia, but the college has made solid strides in recent years.

"We're making great progress," said Martín Valadez, CEO of the CBC Foundation and the college's former vice president of diversity.

A larger percentage of 2011-12 graduates were Hispanic at Yakima Valley Community College and Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake but the total number of Hispanic graduates at each individual school was less than CBC's.

The college ranked fourth in the state with the most Hispanic undergraduates that academic year with 1,613 students, or 25 percent of total enrollment, of all two-year and four-year institutions. The Washington State University system, University of Washington's Seattle campus and YVCC were the top three.

CBC has been recognized as a Hispanic-serving institution, or HSI, since 2012. Such colleges and universities must have at least 25 percent of their students be Hispanic. They then are qualified to apply for hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding.

The college was an HSI five years before but lost its status when federal officials ruled only Hispanic students taking courses toward a college degree could be counted.

"We weren't reaching out to everyone we needed to," Valadez said. "But it's also outreach to parents, though. They can influence their kids."

The college developed programs such as Upward Bound and those targeted at migrants to highlight the value and accessibility of higher education, Valadez said.

There have been information campaigns via Spanish radio and attempts to better retain students by getting them help in math and providing academic counseling. And more financial aid is being made available. CBC Hispanic enrollment likely is closer to 28 percent to 30 percent today, he said.

About 18 percent of WSU Tri-Cities students were Hispanic in 2012. About 1,400 students were enrolled that academic year. That percentage jumped to 23.5 percent in 2013. University officials said Hispanic enrollment has increased 430 percent in the past 10 years.

The university has pursued becoming an HSI, with former chancellor Vicky Carwein stating she wanted to achieve the designation by 2015. University officials said achieving the status is still a goal.

"Due to extensive efforts by our campus to recruit and retain Hispanic students, in fall 2013 we met the HSI-required enrollment level of Hispanic students," said Chancellor H. Keith Moo-Young in a statement.

"However, as recommended by the HSI organization, we are carefully monitoring this number over a few semesters to make sure it is stable, while continuing our recruitment and retention efforts in this area."

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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