Texas Baptist schools prepare for Hispanic growth

Harold Aguirre of Fort Worth, one of the first two recipients of the Hispanic Young Baptist Leaders Scholarship at Dallas Baptist University receives a big hug from his mother, Magaly, after his graduation. (Photo / Isa Torres)

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In a state where the majority of students in public schools are Hispanic and where Hispanics are projected to outnumber Anglos in the general population within the next three years, Texas Baptist universities are preparing for change.

During the 2017-18 academic year, Hispanics represented a majority of the student population at one school that partners with the Baptist General Convention of Texas—Baptist University of the Américas in San Antonio, where they comprise 54.9 percent of total enrollment.

Two other universities—Houston Baptist and Wayland Baptist—qualified as Hispanic Serving Institutions, a designation reserved for schools that reach at least 25 percent Hispanic enrollment. Hispanics represented 35.7 percent of the total enrollment at HBU and 32.3 percent at Wayland.

Universities and colleges know they become more attractive to Hispanic students if they achieve the HSI label, and schools will not spurn the grants following that label, either. Eligible universities classified as Hispanic Service Institutions qualify for federal grants to provide academic and social support to Hispanic students.

Five Texas Baptist schools—the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Howard Payne University, Hardin-Simmons University, Dallas Baptist University and Baylor University—qualified as Emerging Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Hispanic students represented 21 percent of total enrollment at UMHB, 20.7 percent at Howard Payne, 18.9 percent at Hardin-Simmons, 15.9 percent at DBU and 15.2 percent at Baylor, according to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

Baylor seeks to support first-generation students

Although 51 percent of all students in the state’s public schools are Hispanic, only 27 percent of Hispanics in Texas have college degrees. That percentage goes down to 22 in the nation, said Mito Diaz-Espinoza, program manager of Student Success-First in Line at Baylor University.

Hispanics represent a significant segment of first-generation college students, he noted. At Baylor, about one-fifth of the students are first-generation students. More than one-third—36 percent—of the first-generation students at Baylor are Hispanics.

“We’re a support unit for first-generation college students,” Diaz-Espinoza said. “This is for any students whose parents have not received a four-year bachelor’s degree.”

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First in Line offers scholarships, programs that match students with peer leaders, as well as faculty, staff and mentors who wish to support first-generation students, he said.

“We have to go after first-generation students if we want to make any kind of real difference in our changing demographics,” Diaz-Espinoza observed.

Coaching students through the ‘rough patches’

College life requires meeting deadlines, jumping through hoops and balancing five things at once—including finances, Diaz-Espinoza commented.

(Photo/ Baylor University)

“We tell them, ‘This is the game of college, and these are the steps you take.’ So, we teach them what it means to navigate this place and then coach them through the rough patches,” he said.

First-generation students need support since they struggle finding a home when universities already have terminology unfamiliar to the students, he noted. Terms like “provost,” “credit hours,” or even “dining hall” seem so foreign back home, students feel they cannot share all of what they experience in college with their families, Diaz-Espinoza said.

Many of the first-generation students came from academic programs where they excelled, and at college, they find themselves in a setting where they feel alienated, he noted.

“In their family, they are typically seen as kind of the smart ones or the good ones because they always did very good in class and succeeded easily in high-school,” he said.

“So, for them to fail a chemistry class when they never got anything lower than a 99 in high school chemistry, then that attacks their identity a little bit more. They may say, ‘Maybe I’m not smart enough for college,’ or ‘Maybe I don’t belong here,’ or ‘Maybe there’s a reason no one in family ever went to college.’”

Not only do first-generation college students need lessons on the different cultural nuances they find while studying at the university, but sometimes faculty and staff need lessons on cross-cultural communication, Diaz-Espinoza added.

“I try to help professors understand that at some point, they were the first ones to do something in their family,” he said. “Maybe their parents did go to college, but they were the first ones to pursue graduate school, first to be a college professor or first to do research for a living.”

Mary Herridge, senior director of Baylor’s admissions counseling, pointed out how vital it is for recruiters to connect in language and culture with the groups that make up the majority of public school students. Almost a third of the admissions recruitment team now speaks Spanish, she said.

Diaz-Espinoza also noted the need for more diversity among university faculty and staff. More faculty and staff who look like the students they serve must be the next step, he insisted.

Howard Payne University connects with Hispanic alumni

BGCT-related educational institutions have adopted a variety of approaches to attract Hispanic students and respond to their distinctive needs.

Cory Hines, new president at Howard Payne University, visits with members of the local community during his first day in office. (HPU Photo)

When Cory Hines became president of Howard Payne University, the school renewed its efforts to support Hispanic students, said Kevin Kirk, associate vice president for enrollment management.

“Hispanic students have historically been a part of Howard Payne,” Kirk said, noting HPU has produced a significant number of Hispanic Texas Baptist leaders through the years.

Soon after Hines arrived as president, he scheduled meetings with Hispanic alumni and Hispanic Baptist leaders who are also friends of the university, Kirk noted.

The meetings served as starting points for the university to improve understanding of ways in which HPU can connect with Hispanic students and offer them support as they pursue their degree, Kirk said.

“It’s always been such an important part of our culture, to be that Christian higher education choice for Hispanic students,” Kirk said. “With Dr. Hines’s arrival, there’s been a renewal of that sense of identity in order to be involved in all we can be, make the connections we need so Texas Baptist Hispanic students are aware of us and the opportunities they have here.”

Over the past decade, students of non-Anglo backgrounds at the university increased from 26 percent to 54 percent, he said. He added 27 percent of the 246 incoming students starting last academic year were Hispanic.

A close-knit Christ-centered academic community like Howard Payne can be the type of environment many Hispanic students look for, Kirk commented.

“We want to be the right choice for Hispanic students,” he insisted.

DBU wants Hispanic students to thrive

Dallas Baptist University has a similar aspiration—“to be the premier school for Hispanic students,” according to David Reyes, director of student life at DBU.

Harold Aguirre graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a double major in communication theory and intercultural studies. He went to work in the admissions office at DBU while he pursues his master’s degree in bilingual education. (Photo / Isa Torres)

The vision began when Gary Cook was DBU president and sought to increase the number of Hispanic students. Cook transitioned to chancellor of DBU in 2015, but the vision continued to flourish when Adam Wright became the university’s president in 2016, Reyes noted.

“The goal is not only to see how we can welcome more Hispanic students here. But once they’re here, we want to see how they can thrive,” Reyes said.

DBU’s vision for Hispanic students requires cultural awareness, Reyes said.

“We understand we are not only recruiting the individual students, but we are also recruiting their families,” he commented.

In 2015, DBU began awarding two scholarships every year to Hispanic students, covering 50 percent tuition and 100 percent room and board. The first students who received the scholarships, Bethany Morales and Harold Aguirre, graduated from DBU in May.

DBU hired Aguirre as soon as he graduated to work with the admissions office. Reyes hopes

other Hispanic students find in him the support they need to understand what college education demands and the support DBU could offer them.

“Harold is an example of the education DBU is committed to give,” Reyes said. “With him and through our partnerships, we just want to be at the forefront of what is happening.

“Our heart is just to support students starting school, getting involved, developing their leadership skill, finishing school and using their skills for the church.”

‘A direct reflection of God’s kingdom’

Several schools echoed the idea that the desire for an increasingly diverse student body grows out of the institution’s Christian mission.

“At East Texas Baptist University, we believe that a diverse community is a direct reflection of God’s kingdom,” said Kevin Caffey, ETBU’s vice president for enrollment and administrative affairs.

“We devised a comprehensive plan to enhance the institution’s efforts to expand the Hispanic campus population,” Caffey said. “We recognized that this vision would necessitate a campus-wide commitment to support Hispanic student success.”

That means providing a welcoming atmosphere where students feel at home—where they experience familia.

“Hispanic students at ETBU can expect to be surrounded by faculty, staff, and peers, who appreciate the Hispanic culture,” said Ana Asencio, ETBU freshman admissions counselor. “They will be welcomed by mentors, who encourage Hispanic students to embrace and utilize their culture and diversity to contribute to the richness and blessing of ETBU’s colorful campus fabric.”

Logsdon seeks to serve underserved population

Since its beginning, Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in San Antonio has prioritized reaching underserved populations—particularly Hispanics.

Bob Ellis, dean of Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary, offers a prayer of dedication for the Logsdon Seminary in San Antonio campus at Trinity Baptist Church. (Photo / Isa Torres)

Wally Goodman, director of Logsdon Seminary programs in San Antonio, started his position in 2010 after working at Baptist University of the Américas. At BUA, Goodman learned about generational and cultural differences among Hispanics. That knowledge has served him well at Logsdon’s San Antonio campus, where a third of the student population is Hispanic.

Since 2011, Logsdon in San Antonio has grown to offer the three master’s degrees offered at the main campus in Abilene, as well as the Doctor of Ministry degree.

At first, the growth came with some challenges in terms of class scheduling and location of the campus, Goodman said. But now students face a different challenge in terms of education in a multicultural setting, with a student body that is one-third Hispanic, one-third African American and one-third Anglo.

“The students get along well and they love each other,” Goodman said. “They love the diversity, and I think it’s helped them be more sensitive.”

His background at BUA and now at Logsdon in San Antonio give Goodman an appreciation for the multicultural setting in which the church will exist, he said. But that also means universities and seminaries most prepare students to function and minister in multicultural settings, he remarked.

For the first time last year, the majority of students at both Logsdon Seminary campuses consisted of non-Anglos, said Meredith Stone, associate dean for academics and assistant professor of Scripture and ministry at Logsdon Seminary. Across all campuses of Logsdon seminary, 21 percent of the students identified as Hispanics, she noted.

Because of its student diversity, the Association of Theological Schools invited Logsdon and 19 other schools to be part of a project called Cultivating Educational Capacity Dissemination Conference. The two-year program aims at increasing the effectiveness of ATS schools in educating racial/ethnic students and all students in cultural competence.

Baptist universities and seminaries benefit when they prepare for students of multicultural backgrounds who plan to work in multicultural settings, Goodman observed.

“We are all well served when we learn to relate beyond our cultural background,” he said.

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