The evolution of higher education according to Gustavo Mellander
Leader in the field of university, Gustavo Mellander reflects on the changes throughout the years.
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Gustavo Mellander has been working in the field of education for over 50 years. He has served in a variety of positions for different institutions, including being the president of two — Passaic College, in New Jersey, and Mission College, in California. He has also contributed to a monthly column to The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education magazine.
As an expert in the field, AL DÍA invited him to talk about the changes he has seen since he first entered higher education. Mellander included the community college's role, the increase of Latino students and the availability of programs for working adults as some of the major differences that have happened since he became a student.
For him, there was a dramatic acceptance of community colleges as legitimate sources of higher education throughout the years. Many people choose to start their higher education careers at those institutions because they are closer to home and cheaper.
Since the first public community college in Illinois, in 1901, one of its main characteristics was the very low and almost free tuition. Although still more affordable than four-year institutions, the price to attend community college has increased in such a way that not all students and their families can pay for it.
Going back to what initially community colleges represented, with lower or completely free tuition, is something that Mellander calls for happening soon — and has been on the discussion as one of the solutions for the student debt crisis.
Connected to the Hispanic community, as many Latino students start at community colleges, Mellander also highlighted the increase of Latinos in higher education — especially of Latinas, who have an outstanding record of finishing and succeeding high school and college far more than Latino men.
This trend was good but the pandemic got in the way, Mellander said. He now urges for more intentional effort in reaching out to middle and high schoolers about the possibility of going to college.
Groups that teach students about the application process, how to write an essay and which exams are necessary; can help students feel more familiar with the process. Institutions should invite prospective students to tour the campuses and let them know more about the classes. It will make higher education become a part of their lives, instead of a big mystery, Mellander said.
“We need to demystify higher education,” he added. “Latinos have succeeded at every level.”
When Mellander was an undergraduate student, the only other Hispanic on campus was the janitor. And that’s precisely why he advocates for the importance of representation. In order to attract and retain from a certain community, institutions have to hire people from that cohort.
“Young people have to see role models in important positions at colleges to motivate them,” he said. “They need to talk with somebody who knows what they are going through.”
Another noticeable difference for Mellander is the increase in programs for working adults. Nowadays, even four-year colleges and universities offer courses at night and on weekends, he said. This was something that didn't exist when he was an undergraduate.
Mellander reinforces how important it is to share these opportunities with potential Latino college students, as they need to hear the successful stories of other people from their community.
“So they don’t be shocked or surprised,” he added. “Millions have done it and millions will keep doing it.”