Increasing the graduation rate of Hispanic students

FRESNO, California

Gaytan said, "I feel that coming to school, having to work, taking care of my son ... I have to prioritize what I'm going to do, what's important -- the well being of my son or me sacrificing myself for a couple of months or years."

A new 3 million dollar grant recently awarded to Fresno State by the U.S. Department of Education will help students like Rosalinda who are struggling to finish school. The money will fund a new program that will provide resources for students and the university to improve graduate rates among Hispanic students.

"Right now we need to identify those students. We need to hear their needs from them directly and we need to provide the resources for them at the time they need it," said project director Adrian Ramirez.

Currently, 41-percent of Hispanic students graduate in 6 years, compared to 57-percent of Caucasians. Cultural issues and expectations often play a role, as do financial hardships.

"A lot of them don't come with set career goals so when they get here they are completely lost," said counselor Veronica Flores.

The program will provide tutoring and counseling for students. Faculty will also be trained in how to better tailor class instruction to meet the needs of Hispanic students.

"The content, the expectation, the curriculum will not be changed," said Flores. "As far as what they are learning ... maybe providing them additional support like smaller groups, more visuals."

25-year-old Crox Lopez is back in school after taking a year off following the birth of his son. He hopes that despite a heavy class and work load he'll stay on track for graduation in 2012.

"I'm doing full time units as well," said Lopez. "I plan to continue this way and hopefully finish within the next year, year and a half."

As far as Rosalinda, the single mom is only one semester away from graduation. It's been tough, but she wants to set a good example for her son. "I have to finish it to show him that you have to finish what you start regardless of all the obstacles that you have to overcome."

The goal of the program is to increase the six-year graduation rate of Hispanic students by at least 10-percent, and to close the graduation rate gap completely within 8 years.

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