College can be a confusing and intimidating place for students and their parents if no one in the family has ever gone before.
Unfortunately, this situation keeps many members of the Hispanic community in this area from enjoying the benefits of higher education, said Daniel Ochoa, director of the Letting Education Achieve Dreams program at the University of Houston-Victoria.
“The Hispanic culture is very family oriented,” Ochoa explained. Many Hispanic students prefer to stay close to home and often feel they need to work right after school to help support the family. As a first-generation college student from a Hispanic family, Ochoa experienced that situation himself.
“It’s important to have someone there to help these students think about their futures and make them aware of the educational opportunities available to them here in Victoria,” he said.
UHV has improved the LEAD program to better reach the area Hispanic community, Ochoa said. The program has several efforts underway to help educate first-generation college students and their families about what it takes to be a college student, how to apply to college and how to pay for it, he said.
In one effort, the program employs college students to go and speak with high school students to explain all about college and help them understand the importance of a college education.
Another effort reaches out to businesses and organizations in the community to identify prospective students and educate them about the benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree, he said. Some may have an associate’s degree but may never have thought of moving on to a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree, he said.
A third effort focuses on students at area community colleges. A staff coordinator regularly visits community colleges in search of students who would be good candidates for further higher education but probably don’t have plans to pursue it.
LEAD also is working with community members and organizations to raise scholarship funds especially for first-generation college students, he said.
Aside from reaching out through academic institutions, the program is making inroads into the local Hispanic community by helping to organize cultural events and festivals like the annual Hispanic Heritage Month festivities.
“It’s one of my greatest desires to see the Hispanic population of this area fully represented in the student body at UHV,” UHV President Tim Hudson said. “There is no reason that anyone who wants a higher education should not receive one.”
The majority of the LEAD staff speaks Spanish. The language is spoken in many of the homes of the parents and students LEAD is trying to reach, Ochoa said.
“Speaking the language and understanding the culture are very valuable parts of the advisory process,” Ochoa said.
Ochoa recently completed a three-week fellowship in Mexico to sharpen his language skills and to learn more about the culture south of the border.
Contact LEAD at (361) 570-4893.