Beyond recruitment: How Metro State, other colleges help immigrants find success

At Metropolitan State University, students who show signs of struggle in the classroom can expect an email or phone call from the administration – part of a “just-in-time” retention strategy designed to reach students on the brink of falling behind.

It’s an approach that recognizes the unfamiliar and often intimidating terrain on which many students find themselves, especially immigrants and refugees who may be the first people in their families to attend college.

Indeed, decades after Somalis, the Hmong and other newcomers began diversifying the state’s classrooms, Minnesota’s colleges and universities are focusing on ways to ensure that those students succeed once they get through the door.

“That is a challenge – not only with us but with higher education, in general,” said Julio Vargas-Essex, the admissions director at Metro State, a multicampus urban university in the Minnesota State system.

With main campuses in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Metro State has long attracted newer immigrants and refugees. (This fall, 48 percent of its student body consisted of students of color – though how many of them are from immigrant or refugee groups is not tracked).

‘Multiple platform plan’
The university uses a variety of strategies – what Vargas-Essex calls a “multiple platform plan” — to help its students. Besides its proactive communication system, for instance, the school created a food pantry after recognizing that many students were struggling to buy groceries. “Every time we get a food shipment,” he said, “there is a line outside of our office.”

Schools employ many ways of helping students who might be overwhelmed by the demands of college life. For example, many (including Ridgewater College, where many Somalis and Hispanics take classes and where this reporter teaches) use an “early alert” system through which instructors can notify academic advisers, at the first sign, about students who are having trouble.

By Gregg Aamot for MINNPOST
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