When I first came to Metropolitan State College of Denver I met with students to listen to their priorities about one of the major departments in the center that I had been contracted to help lead. From the very beginning of the meetings and subsequent circulation in the community, it became apparent that the Latino community saw Metro State as theirs both because of its affinity to the institution and the feeling that a Latino neighborhood was sacrificed to make room for what is destined to be a great university in the state of Colorado.
The new tuition rate for undocumented students is not the first time that the institution’s leadership has taken risks with potential political problems. Almost since its inception, Metro State’s rapid growth was financed badly and it became routine for faculty to teach overloads in the interest of creating and/or expanding new and existing academic programs.
There was no shortage of policy makers that thought that they did not need to fully fund Metro State’s enrollment increases since its programs continued to expand regardless. There was an occasion when our president mentioned that the legislature had funded the institution’s growth that year at fifty cents on the dollar and I immediately thought about going back to my school to see about increasing our cheaper part-time faculty pool rather than plan on asking for new full-time slots.
There was also the time that our great success in Division II basketball caused our president to feel that we should go for Division I and even brought coach Jim Valvano to speak to students about this in front of what is today the Plaza building. A number of policy makers in the state were not amused by the ambitions of what they saw as an upstart college and the president soon left.
Much has been said about the benefit of this new tuition policy for Metro State including how it will help attract many more Latino students and get that population to 25 percent of the college quicker so that the institution can reap the millions of dollars that come with its designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution. However, little has been mentioned outside the obvious about the benefits to the Latino community.
In the 1990s, we noticed that the retention rate of Latino students had become better than the institution as a whole. Although no research was conducted to ascertain why that was the case, we did notice that there was a correlation between the increase in the enrollment of Latino immigrants in the college and the increase in retention.
It was soon apparent that immigrant students brought something different to the academy as they were not scarred by language, history and identity issues that challenge many of their Chicano counterparts. They appear freer to focus away from any doubts about self-understanding.
I have had opportunities to work with undocumented students and know about their hunger to succeed. They bring with them a unique dedication and work ethic that changes them from the underacheiver of our time to the best examples of academic success.
Congratulations to President Stephen Jordan and the board of trustees for a well-timed initiative that certainly will bear fruit not only in increasing Latino numbers and percentages, but also in increasing academic excellence at Metro State because undocumented Latino students represent a certain gratefulness given an opportunity to do well.