Conference Aims to Improve Outcomes for Latino Students

graduates of JuntosAMES, Iowa -- Nearly 200 school administrators, teachers and students from across Iowa will get together this month to strategize ways to improve the outcomes of Latino students in both high school and college.

Iowa’s Latino population increased by 95.8 percent, or 79,706 people, from 2000 to 2012, according to the State Data Center of Iowa.

But the four-year graduation rate for Hispanic students in Iowa’s class of 2012 was 77.48 percent — nearly 12 percentage points lower than the 89.26 percent graduation rate for all students that year, according to the Iowa Department of Education.

“We are concerned about the educational progress of our Latino students,” said Larry Ebbers, a professor in Iowa State University’s School of Education. “We know that there is a high number of Latino students that tend to drop out of high school, particularly males.”

The second annual Iowa Latina/o Education Initiative Conference will be held Oct. 16 at the DesMoines Area Community College’s FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny. The conference is free, but participants must register by Oct. 10.

The event is co-sponsored by the Community College Leadership Program, Iowa State University along with its College of Human Sciences and School of Education, and Iowa community college presidents.  

“The theme is access, choice and completion,” said conference coordinator Michelle Robinson, a graduate assistant in the School of Education who is assistant director of the Community College Leadership Initiative Consortium. “Latino students may be able to gain access to college but the more important question is do they have access to the tools necessary for degree completion?”

The conference will provide an opportunity for educators to share best practices.

One of those programs is called “Juntos: Together for a Better Education.” Through the program, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach specialists have worked with high schools, community colleges and businesses to help 108 Latino youth and parents increase their understanding of how to successfully graduate from high school and pursue higher education.

“Program evaluation data reveals that after participating in Juntos, parents feel more confident in working with their child’s school and improved in monitoring their youth’s homework, talking with their youth about school, college or other future plans,” said Kim Greder, an Iowa State associate professor in human development and family studies who’s also a family life state program extension specialist.

Extension specialists Himar Hernandez of Ottumwa and Rosa Gonzalez of Perry will be presenting information about Juntos at the Oct. 16 Latino education conference.

Cristobal Salinas Jr., a Latino graduate research associate in the School of Education, is coordinating volunteers and staff for the conference. He said it is an opportunity for participants to learn about the emerging challenges and needs of the Latino community, with a focus on Latino students.

“The state of Iowa needs to promote Latino success,” Salinas said. “Higher learning institutions need to recruit and retain Latino faculty and staff to provide mentorship and help reduce the gap of Latino undergraduate and graduate students.”

The keynote speaker for the conference will be Loui Olivas, president of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education. Other speakers include Maria Harper-Marinick, executive vice chancellor and provost of Maricopa Community Colleges, and Felix Aquino, vice president for academic affairs at Oklahoma City Community College.
Iowa State University is also playing a role in other conferences aimed at improving outcomes for Latinos.

ISU President Steven Leath will be the keynote speaker and a panelist at the 3rd Annual Latinos in Agriculture Leaders Conference, Oct. 11-13 in San Antonio, Texas. He will give the keynote address at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 11 entitled, “The Future of Agriculture and the Role Universities Like Iowa State Will Play.”

Later that afternoon, Leath will be joined by other university presidents and academic officers for a general panel discussion with conference participants on issues facing agriculture and opportunities for Latinos in agriculture.   

Improving outcomes for Latino students benefits the state as a whole, Greder said. She cited research showing that students who failed to complete high school cost the state $87 million in reduced state tax revenues over their lifetime, and more than $1.8 million per year in additional welfare costs. In addition, those who fail to complete high school will face higher unemployment, have increased health issues and in Iowa are incarcerated at a rate 10 times greater than their peers.

Key Contacts

Michelle Robinson, coordinator, Iowa Latina/o Education Initiative Conference; assistant director, Community College Leadership Initiative Consortium; graduate assistant, School of Education, Iowa State University; 515-294-9631,

Larry Ebbers, professor, School of Education, Iowa State University, 515-294-8067,

Kim Greder, associate professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach program specialist, Iowa State University, 515-294-5906,

Cristobal Salinas Jr., graduate research associate, School of Education, Iowa State University, 515-708-5103,

Lynn Campbell, communications specialist, College of Human Sciences, Iowa State University, 515-294-3689,

Columbus Junction graduates of Juntos. This community-based Iowa State University Extension and Outreach education program helps Latino parents and youth gain knowledge and access resources to prevent youth from dropping out of school, and to encourage youth and their parents to work together to gain access to college. Photo contributed by Mary Weinand.