Improving Access: College attainment for Latino students means a better Memphis

By Madeline Faber

This content originally appeared in an article by the Memphis Daily News

With Hispanics expected to make up 31 percent of the nation’s population by 2060, Christian Brothers University is investing in its growing community by pledging $12.5 million to go toward scholarships for immigrant students whose legal residency status may be in question.Alejandra Ceja, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, spoke at a July 28 event celebrating the Latino Student Success Program and Hola CBU.

On July 28, officials from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics visited Memphis to formally congratulate CBU on two of its programs designed to help Hispanic students. CBU is the first university to answer the White House initiative’s call for commitments to action, which encourages stakeholders to develop partnerships with public, private and nonprofit community investment groups to expand education opportunities for Hispanics.

“In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, this is definitely a significant commitment to action that represents a community coming together to help their future workforce,” said Alejandra Ceja, executive director of the initiative. “This is what we need other universities to be doing across the country.”

“We cannot be a country of caste,”

said John King, senior adviser delegated duties of deputy secretary of education at the U.S. Department of Education. “The Latino community is the future of our country. We cannot leave students behind and expect to move forward as a country.”


The White House initiative was founded 25 years ago in a time of crisis; only 8 percent of Hispanic students held a bachelors degree or higher. In 2015 that figure has doubled but there’s still a lot to be done to increase access and success rates in higher education institutions. 

As part of its 25th anniversary year of action, the initiative is amplifying community groups that are advancing Hispanic education. CBU, along with other universities that answer the commitment to action, will be honored at a White House event in the fall.

Two CBU programs set an example for the initiative. Last year, the Latino Student Success Program provided scholarships and loans for 25 immigrant students through a Lumina Foundation partnership. Thanks to a private donation of $3.5 million and $9 million in matching funds from CBU, that program has expanded with the aim of providing tuition for 105 Latino students over the next seven years. 

Most of the affected students qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which means they can obtain a social security number and work for up to three years, but the status doesn’t give any specifics on gaining in-state tuition or state and federal aid. The other half of the program, Hola CBU, is student-led. 

Students from CBU’s Latino population, a group that makes up 6 percent of its overall students, are invited to participate in over 40 events per year. Hola CBU is part of a larger college-ready initiative organized by Latino Memphis. The tutoring, mentoring and community engaging services that Latino Memphis provides are crucial in helping students reach graduation day, Ceja said.

“That first year is so critical,” she said. “The student support services are extremely critical in the students’ university experience. Eighty percent of CBU’s students stay in Memphis after graduation. If we invest in them, they will invest in the community.”

During their visit, Ceja and King also engaged with Memphis’ change-makers in a round-table discussion organized by the Memphis Chamber of Commerce. Several leaders advocated uplifting early education standards and increasing access for immigrant students to be teachers, thereby providing role models for students and crossing language barriers with parents. 

Heidi Ramirez, chief academic officer for Shelby County Schools, said she requires technical assistance. Kingsbury is one of Memphis’ fastest growing Latino pockets, and schools in that neighborhood are running out of room for additional students, she said. 

Mark White, representative for the 83rd district in the Tennessee Assembly, filled the community in on his efforts with a bill that would give in-state tuition to immigrants that grew up in Tennessee’s school system.“We cannot advance as a state and bring industry into the state if we do not have a well-educated population,” White said. “This is an education issue--not an immigration future.”

“We want these kids to dream big,” Ceja said. “We want them to achieve their educational goals, and we want them to be productive members of society."


Madeline S. Faber is a graduate of Christian Brothers University and a staff writer for the Memphis Daily News

Posted by Josh Colfer at 3:51 PM

The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.

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