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GPC reaches out to Hispanic students
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In an effort to enhance diversity of students in higher education, Georgia Perimeter College recruiter Eric Cuevas works with the college’s Hispanic Outreach program to reach out to the underserved students of the Hispanic population.

Cuevas serves six counties for general recruitment: Newton, Rockdale, Jasper, Morgan, Butts and Morgan. Cuevas works with Vilma Sampson as recruiters in the Hispanic Outreach program, which spans 200 high schools in a 100-mile radius between Oconee and Alpharetta.

About 5.8 of Perimeter’s student body is of Hispanic origin. Cuevas said the program gets most its recruits from Heritage High School in Rockdale County. Alcovy and Eastside high schools in Newton County are considered high achieving in regards to those who attend college after high school.

"Our number one strategy for (Hispanic) students is exposure," said Cuevas. "Some of the bigger institutions won’t waste their time on the students in this community because they deem that’s not where the talent is. We as a college are (trying) to extend our reach to the under-served."

Cuevas visits up to three schools a day. His relationships with the counselors are on first-name basis. By making himself more visible to students, Cuevas said, he is able to make them more comfortable when he engages them.

With families that speak English as a second language, Cuevas holds one-on-one meetings to discuss the step of the college enrollment process.

Cuevas noted that students in English as a Second Language classes feel displaced: They are in a new country, culture and language. College had not even been a choice for these students, he said. To complicate recruitment efforts further, many Hispanic families on a fixed income do not encourage the children to pursue higher education, Cuevas said. Once the children reach a certain age, it becomes their job to contribute to the household, so college is a burden on the family.

"A lot of GPC students are first-generation high school graduates," Cuevas said. "Their parents don’t know the processes. So we go over the applications, financial aid, scholarships and the entire procedure."

Some of the recruitment methods employed by Cuevas and Sampson include attending college fairs funded by high schools or the college, lunchroom and classroom presentations and events staged by groups like Hispanic Scholarship Fund or the Latin American Association. They sometimes serve as guest speakers or mentors at these events.

"Some of these kids just don’t know any better; going to a university, a college or getting a scholarship are foreign things to them," Cuevas said. "That’s what we are fighting. And we’re fighting families at times. If they decide to go to school, the highest they can dream is a quick return investment, like AC Tech or cosmetology. There’s nothing wrong with those disciplines, but that’s as high as they go."

There are also residency issues to contend with. The state of Georgia currently allows a student access to an education regardless of the individual’s legal status in this country. However, they would have to pay out-of-state tuition, which can be at least three times the cost of in-state tuition. Regents announced on Wednesday that illegal immigrants will be banned from Georgia’s top public colleges next fall.

A lot of Hispanic educators are hoping for the passage of the DREAM Act, which would allow conditional permanent residency to those who complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning. Cuevas applauds the measure, believing if one were willing to risk this life to protect the country or were going to get education that will enrich the country, then he has earned their spot.

"There are some in public office that oppose this, saying it would take away seats from other more qualified students. I laugh at that, because they are not going to Georgia Tech or UGA. They can’t afford it, so they’re coming here. Our goal at this college is that we want everybody to get an education. We have never once turned a student away because we didn’t have the room or resources. It’s never happened, not since I’ve been here, and I doubt it happened before I got here. These seats are not being taken away. If anything, they are paying a lot more into the system because of out-of-state costs."