LARES honored for services to Latino students

Female Latino student

LARES helps students, particularly first-generation college students, navigate
the admission process through workshops on topics like financial aid.

In the 1970s, community members joined UIC students, faculty and staff to advocate for specialized Latino student services for recruitment and retention. The result: a new department, known today as the Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services (LARES) program.

A year shy of its 40th anniversary, LARES is the largest academic support unit at UIC, where now more than a quarter of undergraduates are Latino.

This month, the program earned national recognition for improving Latino student success in college. Excelencia in Education, a national nonprofit whose mission is to accelerate Latino student success in higher education, named LARES as its 2014 Example of Excelencia award, the nation’s top program for increasing achievement for Latino students in the undergraduate category.

The award, presented in collaboration with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, recognizes the evidence-based program or department that most effectively boosts Latino enrollment, performance and graduation.

Hugo Teruel, director of LARES, accepted the award and a $5,000 check in support of LARES Tuesday night at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

LARES will receive an Outstanding Institutional Advising Program Award from the National Academic Advising Association at its annual conference in Minneapolis next month. The award recognizes programs for best practices in academic advising.

“We are proud that our work on behalf of the students and the community we serve has gained distinction from national organizations,” Teruel said. “The recognition is vindication that we have a good program and provide innovative academic advising.”

Hugo Teruel

“There is always work that needs to be done,” says director Hugo Teruel. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

UIC’s six-year graduation rate for full-time Hispanic freshmen who entered in fall 2008 is 56 percent, up 7 percentage points from the year before and 16 points since 2010. The five-year graduation rate for new Hispanic transfer students who entered in fall 2009 increased three points, to 74 percent.

“There is always work that needs to be done,” Teruel said. “Among college-bound youth, the Latino population is the only group expected to grow.”

LARES helps students, particularly first-generation college students, navigate the admission process through workshops on topics like financial aid. The LARES advisers are also recruiters — UIC liaisons to high schools and prospective students. Teruel says the dual role is vital to the unit’s success.

“Students make that connection, develop that rapport with an adviser, and vice versa — the university makes a connection with the student,” he said. “By the time they step foot on campus, they see a friendly face.”

At orientation, LARES staff work with college advisers to assist incoming students. Individualized counseling, career and graduate school guidance, tutoring and other academic services are available.

LARES offers students a leadership program with civic engagement opportunities, speakers, workshops and a national leadership conference.

In partnership with the Hispanic Center of Excellence in the College of Medicine, LARES holds a summer academic enrichment program for incoming first-year pre-medicine students. The Latino Health Science Enrichment Program helps students with chemistry, math and English skills, offers pre-health career workshops and provides information on college transition and campus resources.

LARES’ external outreach includes the Chicago Public Schools, the City of Chicago and the Illinois Latino Family Commission.

UIC’s 2.7 percentage point growth since last year in Hispanic/Latino undergraduate enrollment — now 26.4 percent of the student body — qualifies the campus to seek designation as a Hispanic-Serving Insti-tution from the U.S. Education Department.

“The designation is important, and it sends a message to the university, to higher education and to the community that we need to focus on graduating Latino students,” Teruel said. “For educational purposes, becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution allows us to apply for funding that could really help in terms of retention and graduation.”

As a Hispanic-Serving Institution, UIC would be eligible for federal grants for student support services, classroom equipment, construction or renovation, faculty development, tutoring and counseling, and other academic offerings. UIC will submit its application — which also requires data on affordability, graduation rates and financial aid — in 2015.