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WSU becoming a destination for Latine students

| September 18, 2023 12:19 PM

PULLMAN — The number of students of Hispanic and Latino origin attending Washington State University has grown substantially in the last decade — up 75% to more than 4,000 students systemwide.

That’s a national trend, but it’s also a reflection of the success of programs offered at WSU that support students and their families.

Programs like La Bienvenida, an immersive Spanish-language orientation for incoming first-year students and their families, which is held on three of WSU’s six campuses. Or CAMP, the College Assistance Migrant Program, for students from farmworker families.

WSU serves undocumented students through the Undocumented Initiatives program, which includes classes and workshops, a student center, and immigration consultations.

There are also many registered student organizations that provide mentoring, socializing, and networking opportunities for Latine students.

“WSU is becoming a destination university in the state for students of Hispanic and Latine backgrounds,” said Michael Heim, director of Migrant Education Student Access & Support at WSU.

WSU is now considered an “emerging Hispanic-serving institution” by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, a designation for schools with Hispanic enrollment between 15% and 24%.

Cleofa Vargas, a business major from Yakima who’ll graduate in May, said she applied to WSU but wasn’t seriously considering it until she visited the Pullman campus. “I saw there were people like me here. That definitely convinced me to come to WSU,” she said.

Since enrolling, she’s found valuable support through Multicultural Student Services and through the student organization M.E.Ch.A. This academic year she’s a mentor in the Chicanx/Latinx Student Center.

Johan Rivera, another mentor there, was a transfer student from Highline College in Des Moines, Washington. He focuses on helping other transfer students get acclimated.

“There are not a lot of people who look like me in my major, so I think it’s my responsibility to help others,” said Rivera, who’ll graduate in 2025 with a degree in construction engineering.

WSU Tri-Cities launched the Bridges program in 2020 with Columbia Basin College in Pasco, which has 43% Hispanic enrollment. Bridges is a coordinated pathway from community college to WSU Tri-Cities, with fee waivers, counseling and retention programs.

Rafael Pruneda, the Bridges transfer advisor for WSU Tri-Cities, said enrolling more students of Hispanic and Latino origin is “exciting” for WSU. But “it’s also a big responsibility on our part to make sure students aren’t falling through the cracks, and that they’re going to have the support services they need” through programs like Bridges, he said.

A first-gen student has “one foot in one place, and their heart and a foot in another place. We understand that, and we want people to know they’re going to have the resources and people to support them,” Pruneda added.