Affordable college degree for Latino students

El-Centro-Northeastern-Illinois-University---El-Centro-Campus---VIEW-2_COPY[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n high school, Claudia Hernandez was asked to write an essay about her goals. When she stated that she wanted to become a lawyer, her teacher talked her out of it saying only a few ”lucky ones” make it. This past May, Hernandez earned her degree in social work from Northeastern Illinois University and is now pursuing her master’s degree.

“Unfortunately, Claudia’s story is not unusual,” says Maria Luna-Duarte, director of Northeastern Illinois University’s El Centro, where Hernandez attended many of her classes. “Latino students with strong academic records see obstacles, not open doors, as they pursue a college degree. Family responsibilities and finances are just two of many reasons why young Latinos are told to find other life paths. At Northeastern’s El Centro, we are slowly knocking down those obstacles making a university degree a reality for thousands.”

Northeastern Illinois University debuted its El Centro location in the 1960s, when Latino students helped open a learning center in their community —a place where Spanish-speaking migrants or immigrants could learn English. 

Later this month, a brand-new building will greet El Centro’s students—a modern, eco-friendly 66,000-square-foot facility in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood.  

Home to degree programs in social work, computer science, justice studies and special education, El Centro’s new student enrollment already has increased 150 percent this school year, which will start Aug. 22.

For many students like Hernandez, supportive services ease the transition to college. Third-year justice studies student Eric Navas says, “El Centro has helped change my life for the better. They answered all my questions, are keeping me motivated, and constantly encouraging me.” Third-year social work major Arnold Garcia concurs, lauding the university’s six-week summer program as a chance to “attend helpful workshops and make new friends.”

Many El Centro students are recent high school graduates like Navas and Garcia, but others are working adults either beginning or finally completing their college degree. “We value all of our students’ diverse life experiences and are committed to making a college degree achievable for each and every one of them,” says Luna-Duarte. “Flexibility is essential to these students’ success, as many are balancing their courses with a job and family responsibilities.” 

“Students can be intimidated by the process of choosing, enrolling and succeeding in college, especially if they are the first in their family to pursue a degree,” says Dr. Sharon Hahs, Northeastern Illinois University’s president.

Luna-Duarte adds, “Students and their families may be nervous of language and cultural barriers, and students may even have pressure to financially support their families. We are continually fighting these obstacles and showing these bright students their education options.” 

In line with its commitment to student success, Northeastern Illinois University offers generous transfer credit policies, graduate school preparation, and financial aid to meet the needs of traditional and returning adult students. 

“We are proud to have been named the sixth best investment among all American universities, and No. 1 in the state of Illinois,” says Hahs. 

Northeastern Illinois University’s new El Centro is located at 3390 N. Avondale in Chicago at the Kennedy Expressway. 

For more information, visit www.neiu.edu/academics/el-centro/ or call 773-442-4080. 

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