CHARLOTTE, N.C. — UNC Charlotte is receiving recognition for its diversity efforts.
A national nonprofit organization called "Excelencia in Education" ranked UNC Charlotte first among four-year colleges in the state for the number of Latino students enrolling and receiving degrees at the university.
In the fall of 2018, Latino students accounted for 10% of students enrolled in the public institution. In 2017-2018 school year, 9% of students receiving bachelor's degrees were Latino.
The analysis, which is conducted for all 50 states, is released with the goal of accelerating success of Latino students in higher education.
“We want people to know what the current status is, what the baseline is in their state, and who are the institutions enrolling and graduating students so they can take action,” Excelencia in Education CEO Deborah Santiago says.
Claudia Martinez attends UNC Charlotte. She’s graduating in May with degrees in international business and Spanish.
“You really didn't think it was going to be possible, but just time flew and now it's happening,” Martinez says.
The first generation student who moved from Mexico with her parents at a young age initially didn’t think college was in her future.
“College is so expensive and you know, you never want to have that kind of burden on your parents, especially when there's four others,” Martinez says.
She learned about UNC Charlotte after recruiters visited her Charlotte high school. Martinez chose the university, in part, because of the location of the campus.
“Knowing that I could come back home and in case they needed me was really a good thing. My parents, they are immigrants from Mexico, so they're not really good at speaking English. Me being there and being one of the oldest daughters, I could help them out, whether it be financially or whenever they need help going to a doctor's office,” Martinez says.
Financial aid and a program helping underrepresented students transition to college called, "University Transition Opportunities Program" paved her way to the university.
She had peer mentors who helped her along the way.
“They were amazing mentors and then just seeing them succeeding and being in all these [organizations] was very eye-opening to me and motivated me to want to be just like them,” Martinez says.
During her time in college, Martinez co-founded a group on campus called "Latinx Student Union," which connects Latino students with community service opportunities and helps them with professional leadership development.
“It’s also just a safe space for anyone who is interested in learning about more Latinx culture to come out,” Martinez says.
UNC Charlotte’s Associate Dean for Advising and Education Lisa Slattery Walker says the university has made a great effort in the retention and graduation of all students, focusing on minoritized students.
“We really do believe in, in trying to be a place where students can, can leverage the opportunities of higher education for social mobility, to improve their own lives and the lives of their families,” Slattery Walker says.
Martinez hopes this achievement encourages more Latino students to attend the university.
“Knowing that there's people that are coming from similar backgrounds as you are in college, or are succeeding in college, it's just really motivating,” Martinez says.
Slattery Walker says UNC Charlotte also has a transfer program, called 49er Next, that has also helped Latino students have a path to a four-year degree.
UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University rank second and third for the number of Latino students completing their degrees at those universities.
Wake Technical Community College and Central Piedmont Community College are the top two-year institutions enrolling and awarding associate's degrees.
For more information on Excelencia in Education’s analysis, click here.