Posted at: 10/16/2013 6:17 PM
By: Dan Conradt

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Riverland Reaching Out to More Hispanic Students

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Hispanics now make up 17 percent of the US population.

But the percentage of students attending American college is lagging well behind that.

Now, more and more colleges are taking steps to reach out to the Hispanic population to help even-out those numbers.

"We need to do a little more support and encouragement that college is available to you," said Riverland Community College’s Danielle Heiny.

In Minnesota, 4.9% of college students are Hispanic. Historically, Hispanic enrollment at the University of Minnesota is around 2.5%. At Riverland Community College, 8.5% of students are Hispanic.

"Our enrollment went up 17% from four years ago with our enrollment of Hispanic students," Riverland’s Danielle heiny told us.

And it didn't happen by accident.

"We have several outreach programs including our Be Your Best summer academy," Danielle Heiny explained.

"We took prep courses that would make us have that stepping stone for when we did start at Riverland," RCC graduate Gema Alvarado said.

“Then we have several scholarship programs," Danielle Heiny explained.

“Cycles For Success really helped me in that way," Gema Alvarado told us.

Cycles For Success is funded by the Hormel Foundation. It focuses on student in the middle 50% of their high school class rank, and is weighted for other factors, like first-generation college students.

"Their parents did not go to college, so they don't have that knowledge base embedded in their family culture," said Riverland’s Danielle Heiny.

“So while at home we might not be getting that importance of college, we are getting it in school, and we're getting it at a very young age," said Riverland grad Gema Alvarado.

“We have three full-time multi-cultural advisors who are bilingual, bi-cultural, Hispanic heritage that help students," Danielle Heiny explained.

“I graduated from the human services program, but I did continue on to Kaplan University and I'm going for my bachelors in psychology and child development," Gema Alvarado said. 

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And she had a special reason for pursuing a college degree.

"I am a parent. I have a soon to be three year old. It's something we're doing that will better ourselves, that will get us a better job, but it's also something that will help our family."