ETSU researchers seek to learn more about Hispanic students’ access to higher education

Brandon Paykamian • Feb 11, 2018 at 5:17 PM

A projected shift in student demographics has recently motivated some researchers at East Tennessee State University to begin taking a closer look at what motivates and impedes Hispanic high school students from attending and graduating college in Northeast Tennessee.

The lead researcher, Moin Uddin, an associate professor in ETSU’s Department of Engineering, Engineering Technology and Surveying, said he’d like to see more minorities enrolling in higher education, particularly STEM programs.

“It’s so important that we find the road bumps that keep Hispanic students from achieving advanced degrees,” Uddin said in a recent press release from the university. “Our goal is to provide results that will help advisers and administrators know what tools are needed to help Hispanic students enter college and graduate.”

According to the Tennessee Department of Education, 4.73 percent of students in Northeast Tennessee are Hispanic.

The Pew Research Center believes that number could dramatically rise, due to the fact one-third of the nation’s Hispanic population — nearly 60 million — is under the age of 18.

Denise Chavez, a graduate student in Uddin’s department, is building the groundwork for the research funded by the ETSU Research and Development Committee. By using surveys, questionnaires and interviews to gain insight from Hispanic students in secondary and post-secondary schools, she hopes to further understand the obstacles faced by Hispanic students in Northeast Tennessee.

One thing she said she’s noticed, particularly with students who’ve immigrated to the United States, is that many Hispanic students must overcome an initial language barrier. This is one of the first main hurdles, aside from social, economic and legal barriers. 

“Say they finish high school or are about to graduate from whatever country they’re from, and they’re placed in grades below them. The idea is that they’re not as smart, but there is the language barrier that impedes them from being competitive,” she said.

There are nearly 12,000 Hispanic residents that account for 2.34 percent of the population of the eight counties in Northeast Tennessee. ETSU has about 360 Hispanic students out of a student body of nearly 15,000.

“Given these numbers, we need to do our best to increase the enrollment and graduation of our students,” Chavez said. “Even though we’re graduating from high school, a lot of us aren’t going into higher education, and many are pursuing an associate degree and not going further.”

For the Hispanic students that do attend universities, one of the main things Chavez hopes to gauge through research is the determination of Hispanic students facing social obstacles and adversity.

“One of the things I’m focusing on is the willingness to lead, the hardiness and grit of Hispanic students,” she said.

Uddin said their research will help educators understand how to “bring the necessary resources together to help Hispanic high school students enroll in college and stay in college.”

Though there have been similar studies in other regions, he said Hispanic students in Northeast Tennessee may face some different issues compared to students in states like California, which has a higher population of Hispanic students. 

He said this study could lead to additional research focusing on other minority groups and the disparities they face. That way, educators can find out how to bring minority groups into more STEM programs, like engineering. 

“Hispanics represent a rising population already in the United States. If we spend more time educating and training them, they will be a valuable asset to society and will contribute greatly,” Uddin said.


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