By Nancy Sanchez-Diaz
Despite the decline in Latino enrollment across the nation, the Latino presence at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Metropolitan campus is thriving. At its core is the 2-year-old Hispanic Center program, the first pillar in FDU’s vision to ensure that Latino students have the opportunity to reach their full potential at the college level.
Following restructuring in July 2020, the program moved from the Petrocelli College into the Hispanic Center, said Hernando Rivera, associate director of the Latino Promise program, in an email to The Equinox.
The goal is to expand the program, Rivera said.
The center consists of the aptly named Hispanics Achieving College Education Recognition (HACER), Latino Promise, Puerta Al Futuro and Avanza programs.
Part of the Becton College of Arts and Sciences, the Hispanic Center is now overseen by academic director Teodoro Llallire.
“With Petrocelli College being an independent school, at some times we were isolated from the rest. Not anymore,” Roberto Diaz, associate director of Puerta Al Futuro, told The Equinox. “Now that we are a big part of the FDU community, we have started to do more things that integrate us more into your world.”
The number of colleges and universities that are Hispanic Serving Institutions, or HSIs, fell as Latino enrollment declined during the pandemic, according to new data from Excelencia in Education, a Latino higher education research and advocacy group.
Universities and colleges qualifying as HSIs dropped from 569 in 2020-21 to 559 in 2021-22, according to the data provided first to NBC News. This is the largest decline in HSIs since 1996-97.
At FDU’s Metropolitan campus, there were 1,463 (26.4%) undergraduate Latino students in Fall 2021, according to Angelo Carfagna, vice president of University Communications.
This summer, the Hispanic Center will bring on an executive director focused on Latino community outreach, said Diaz, and in the fall, Latino Promise will launch at the Florham campus, FDU’s second New Jersey campus in Madison.
The Hispanic Center programs seek to redress educational, economic and social barriers by recruiting in immigrant-heavy, urban school districts.
“We want to move our community from this space, where they occupied spaces of low-income, low-education levels, high poverty rates,” Irene Oujo, a senior lecturer at the Hispanic Center, told The Equinox.
The Hispanic Center will also partner with a new advertising company to increase outreach and recruitment efforts across the nation.
“We used to have four offsites; those offsites were shut down,” said Diaz. “That’s when we realized that we had to be creative. What are we gonna do with all those students that won’t be able to come to classes?”
With the pandemic came the idea of a virtual modality.
“We are very happy,” Diaz said. “We were able to recruit [students] from New York, Pennsylvania, Florida and Indiana that actually attend classes with us remotely. The numbers are growing by the day.”
Between Latino Promise, HACER and Puerta Al Futuro, Diaz estimated 120 to 130 students could be enrolled.
Diaz added, “With the Hispanic Center, our students will be able to not only interact but be a part of the social and emotional learning experience across all of FDU.”
Following its restructuring, the Latino Promise, HACER, Puerta Al Futuro, and Avanza programs were moved from the Petrocelli College into a newly-created Hispanic Center.
Art by Nancy Sanchez-Diaz