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The Mint Building at the Community College of Philadelphia serves as the centerpiece of the college's main campus. Photo: Emily Neil / AL DÍA News
The Mint Building at the Community College of Philadelphia serves as the centerpiece of the college's main campus. Latino enrollment at the college is at about 14.8 percent. Photo: Emily Neil / AL DÍA News

Community College of Philadelphia takes aim to support Latino student population

Through their many initiatives, the Community College of Philadelphia aims to not only recruit, but also retain Latino students.

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With nearly 17,000 students enrolled for the fall 2018 semester, the Community College of Philadelphia features a number of initiatives that support the college’s mission: to create a caring environment which is intellectually and culturally dynamic and encourages all students to achieve.

The cultural dynamic of the college consists of a diverse group of students. The demographics are African Americans at about 50.8 percent, Whites at about 24.1 percent, Hispanics and Latinos at about 14.8 percent, Asian and Pacific Islanders at about 10.4 percent, and Native Americans at about 0.3 percent. Overall, the student population consists of about 76 percent of students who would be considered “minorities,” according to the college’s statistics.

On Jan. 31, AL DÍA hosted a Higher Education Leaders Summit to unite academic leaders from institutions of higher education from the Greater Philadelphia area with foundations and Hispanic organizations in a shared initiative to promote educational opportunities for Hispanic students in the region. As the largest community college in the city of Philadelphia, CCP administrators said that they play a vital role in the process of connecting Latino students to higher education, and are looking to improve their strategies for engaging Latino students and ensuring that they are able to complete their degree programs.

The Dean of Students at the Community College of Philadelphia, David “Rico” Ascencio, said that the Latino student population has increased by nearly two percent since he first joined the school a little more than a year ago.

“About two years ago, it was about 13 percent,” he said of the Latino population at the school. “So, we’re moving more in terms of outreach in different community agencies, but also the high schools and charter schools.”  

CCP takes many strides to both recruit Latino students to the school, and also retain the existing students. One of the primary ways the school does it is by visiting many high schools across the city, particularly ones with a student body consisting of a large percentage of Latinos.

Virginia Ramirez, Admissions Recruiter at CCP, focuses on those visits and other strategies as part of her job at the college.

With the current Latino population in Philadelphia at around 14 percent, ESL programs are also provided at the school to help students whose first language isn’t English.

“We have bilingual people on our campus who communicate with those people when they don’t speak any English,” Ramirez said. She also expressed the importance of learning the English language, and the strength of the ESL programs.

The school also collaborates, via event planning, with various local organizations that serve the Latino community, such as LULAC, Congreso, APM, and ASPIRA.

In addition to a multitude of existing services, CCP is currently working on adding a number of other programs, as well.

“We have a new Latinx Student Mentoring Program that we’re working on now, to get the students more involved, for us to kind of wrap our arms around them,” Ascencio said. “It’s gonna be a group of Latino faculty and administrators working with these students directly.”

The faculty also works with Latino student organizations, such as LASO (Latin American Student Organization) and Ritmo Latino (a dance group). There are also several study abroad opportunities to Spanish-speaking countries, including Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Peru.

Ascencio said the college-wide services can also be looked at as retention tools for students.

“They actually help, not only Latinos, but a lot of students that are in need with these various services here, and they actually serve thousands of students a year,” said Ascencio. “If it wasn’t for these programs, I don’t know what those students would do.”

The counseling services are another one of the important components of the school’s efforts to recruit and retain Latinos, and cultivate a more diverse student base.

“Our counseling center is very diverse. We have so many different male-female diversity, in terms of backgrounds. And I tell you, that really helps in terms of meeting the students where they’re at, and they can work with someone that reflects their values, how they look… We’ve been very successful there,” said Ascencio.

In the near future, CCP hopes to see the Latino student population grow closer to 18 to 20 percent, to better reflect the percentages of Philadelphia public high schools and charter schools.

In addition to that, as the highest ranking Latino at CCP, Ascencio is hoping to start a caucus at the school to focus on making progress in the area of recruiting and retaining more Latino students.

“If we kind of bond together then we’ll be able to do that, to not only identify barriers, but also opportunities,” Ascencio said. “I think that’s gonna be critical.”

“The biggest thing is making sure that we network and that we help them, not only internally but externally,” he added. “Make sure that they’re tapping into the resources in the community. If they’re able to do that—not only identify with the institution, but with the administrators and their peers—they’re more likely to stay in school and graduate.”

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