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Admissions faces new costs as bilingual trend grows

As more Latino students apply to American colleges, universities across the country are providing more Spanish materials for applicants and their families.

At Duke, where the Latino undergraduate population represents one of the smallest racial groups, University officials are following a national trend by shifting their attention to better serve this growing minority group.

Duke currently offers campus tours in Spanish for Spanish-speaking parents at Blue Devil Days, its annual welcome weekend for admitted students. The admissions staff holds bilingual question and answer sessions throughout the year and includes a cover letter in Spanish to parents of students invited to the Latino Student Recruitment Weekend.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag said the prevalence of bilingual services and translated documents will only increase on college campuses as the pool of Spanish-speaking applicants grows.

“I expect that in the coming months and years we will see many colleges expand the languages with which they communicate to the world at large, including to prospective students,” Guttentag wrote in an e-mail.  “I think it’s a good thing, and I’m glad to see the issue get greater visibility.”

Other universities are also making changes to assist Latino applicants. The Harvard College Financial Aid Office offers an information page in Spanish to help parents understand aid policies. Similarly, other schools like Wesleyan University, Smith College and Bryn Mawr College include Spanish pages on their admissions Web sites. The University of Pennsylvania conducts information sessions in Spanish during recruiting trips. A Harvard College Admissions Office representative could not be reached for comment.

Senior Raisa Ledesma, a member of Mi Gente, Duke’s Latino Student Association, wrote in an e-mail that the University should not underestimate the importance of including Spanish materials during recruitment.

“The wealth of information these materials provide would be invaluable to prospective candidates and their families so that they can make the best decision for their future education,” Ledesma said.

In 2009, Latino students made up 7 percent of the undergraduate student body at Duke. According to Hispanic Magazine’s list of 25 Top Colleges for Hispanics, Stanford University boasts a 12 percent Latino enrollment, Yale University and the University of Chicago each have an 8 percent enrollment and Harvard and Princeton Universities each have a 7 percent Latino population.

Duke also made changes to its Web site to assist students and families who speak different languages. Duke’s Office of News and Communication recently worked with faculty members and others across campus to translate a one-page introduction to the University into eight languages, including Spanish, according to a University news release this month.

Guttentag said these efforts are not as expansive as they would hope because of the current economic situation.

“Translating any document, and printing it separately, of course entails new costs right at the point where all of our budgets are being squeezed,” Guttentag said.

Guttentag said that although the Latino population is smaller at Duke than at other institutions, the admissions staff is working to ensure that Spanish-speaking families are adequately assisted.

“Up until very recently, Latino students were significantly underrepresented at Duke compared to our peer institutions,” Guttentag said. “Thanks to the efforts of several of our admissions officers... that gap has shrunk considerably, and even been eliminated in some cases.”

Duke Senior Admissions Officer Kim Reyes, Trinity ’03, said she was a part of the decision to include a cover letter translated into Spanish for students invited to Latino Student Recruitment Weekend. She added that she consistently goes through admissions documents with Spanish-speaking families.

“I have definitely seen students who need that extra bit of personal interaction for them and their families,” Reyes said. “In the last year and a half, I’ve seen so many parents come that speak Spanish and want to talk.”

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