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NMSU ranked among nation's top schools for Hispanics

LAS CRUCES - Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, a national journal, has ranked New Mexico State University as one of the nation's top schools for Hispanics based on enrollment and number of graduate and undergraduate degrees awarded.

Alberto Benavidez, a student at NMSU's School of Engineering, monitors a bank of computers used to display satellite tracking data at the General Dynamics Space-Plex facility on the NMSU campus. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Hispanic Outlook conducts an annual search of the U.S. Department of Education's database to rank the nation's top colleges and universities for Hispanics. This year's rankings, released in April, placed NMSU 11th overall in Hispanic enrollment among all four-year colleges with Carnegie Classification, said NMSU Provost William Flores.

"We take great pride in the diversity of our student body," Flores said. "We're one of the few U.S. universities where six-year graduation rates for Hispanics are equal to graduation rates for Anglos. That shows that no matter what their backgrounds, all students get the special support they need to succeed."

About 42 percent of the nearly 16,500 students enrolled at NMSU in 2004-2005 were Hispanic, according to the rankings.

NMSU placed 14th overall in the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to Hispanics last year, with nearly 900 diplomas bestowed.

NMSU also ranked 22nd in the number of master's degrees awarded, and 27th in number of doctoral degrees. Nearly one-third of all graduate students in 2004-2005 were Hispanic, placing NMSU 14th overall in graduate-level enrollment, according to the rankings.

"We not only lead in Hispanic enrollment, we excel in producing scientists and engineers from Hispanic and other minority backgrounds who are highly trained in areas like math, chemistry and biology," Flores said. "We're one of the few doctoral research universities in the country that is defined as 'Hispanic-serving.'"

To be labeled "Hispanic-serving," at least 25 percent of students must be Hispanic, Flores said. The title makes a university eligible for special funding, including research grants, scholarships for students and fellowships for faculty, he said.

"Those funds allow us to further educate Hispanics and to conduct research that helps minority communities, such as projects that address health care along the Mexican border," Flores said.

NMSU is one of the top universities for Hispanic engineering students, said Steven Castillo, dean of the College of Engineering.

"We consistently rank among the top universities for bachelor's, master's and doctoral engineering degrees awarded to Hispanics," Castillo said.

To help Hispanics succeed, the engineering college is working to improve student math skills before they enter college.

"Hispanic students, especially males, face particularly high drop-out rates because of poor high school preparation," Castillo said. "Improving their academic skills is one of the biggest challenges we face to get more Hispanics into higher education."

NMSU has also appointed more Hispanics and other minorities to faculty and upper-level administrative positions, said Carmen Gonzales, NMSU's dean of extended learning and vice provost for distance education.

"The placement of Hispanics and other minorities in top positions helps retain Hispanic students, and it's a key reason why we consistently lead the national rankings by Hispanic Outlook and others," Gonzales said.

Hispanic deans now lead the colleges of extended learning, arts and sciences, and engineering. The vice provosts for student services and university outreach, the associate provost for academic programs, and the heads of the Doņa Ana Branch Community College and the NMSU-Grants campus are all Hispanics.

"We want to hire faculty who are committed to helping Hispanic and other minority students succeed," Flores said. "Hispanic students need to see Hispanic professors in their classes and in leadership positions. They look to them as role models, and that helps build their self-esteem and the belief that they can achieve success in their lives too.