Campus News - March 12, 2001

UNM centers boost student persistence

By Laurie Mellas-Ramirez

College is a struggle for most students. But for those who are first generation or face additional obstacles related to income, race or family responsibilities, graduation day may never come.

UNM support services such as the College Enrichment Program (CEP), El Centro de la Raza, African and American Indian Student Services, Women’s Resource Center and Student Support Services/Upward Bound, are not only helping these students reach their goal, they are boosting retention and graduation rates.

The College Enrichment Program provides direct services to 15 percent of UNM’s first year students. The program serves first-generation, low-income and/or students from rural areas as incoming freshmen through support services such as academic advising, peer mentoring, academic and personal counseling, a Summer Bridge program and career exploration.

In fall 1999, CEP entered 400 freshmen and the UNM Office of Undergraduate Studies (OUS) 2,349. Of the CEP students, 312 or 78 percent persisted to the third semester, while 1,664 or 70.8 percent of OUS students were retained.

Director Arturo Sierra attributes CEP’s success to the program’s creative, personal approach. “I have a staff who is totally devoted to the success of their students. And we’ve had the flexibility to do almost anything,” he says. “CEP acts as an incubator, piloting new projects for the Division of Student Affairs.”

“All the retention gurus say if students are connected they will be successful,” says Sierra.

El Centro de la Raza’s “one-stop shop” experience has been successful in helping Hispanic students, says Director Veronica Mendez-Cruz. The center offers advisement in academics, financial aid and career planning. “The buck stops here. We will get a student’s questions answered,” says Mendez-Cruz. “Our advisors are trained in everything and anything.”

Establishing students as freshmen and helping them make contacts is a big component of El Centro. The Amistades Program provides first year students making the transition to college life with junior and senior mentors whom the program also served.
“Our whole approach to students is very holistic. Our mission is quality not quantity,” says Mendez-Cruz, noting that many of their students graduate in six years versus the University rate of eight.

African American Student Services provides tutoring, mentors and “a home away from home,” says Director Scott Carruthers. A new orientation program begins this fall to help acclimate first year African American students to campus.

American Indian Student Services offers academic advisement, personal counseling, tutoring, mentoring and computer facilities for student use. Program coordinators serve as liaisons with entities on and off campus. A special focus is placed on incoming freshmen through the American Indian Summer Bridge Program, designed to enhance students’ academic skills and introduce them to college life.

The Women’s Resource Center focuses on gender equity and provides services for women who, traditionally, have not had equal access.

Says Director Sandrea Gonzales, “If we don’t know the answer, we usually know where to find it.  The red tape is difficult for anyone, but it is especially difficult for the returning woman student.”

 In the past three months, more than 3,000 women visited the center – about half used the computer pod while others made use of the library, attended brown bag presentations or special programming or obtained crisis intervention services.

Student Support Services/Upward Bound, assists the University in complying with the American Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Services include interpreters, notetakers and help with special equipment or arrangements. “We level the playing field,” says Director Juan Candelaria.

“We all do a little bit more. And after awhile that little bit more adds up,” says Sierra. “Everyone has a different piece of the puzzle and as a whole we come together to help students graduate.”

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Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
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