Closing the gap

SCU’s School of Education and Counseling Psychology is expanding its reach to create more graduate educational opportunities for Hispanic communities. This article first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on May 25, 2014.

As the National Hispanic University prepares to close, a new educational research center and graduate program will move in with the mission of exploring better ways of educating Latino schoolchildren.

The campus will soon add a Latino educational research institute, a charter high school, and a graduate teaching program run by Santa Clara University.

“It’s a unique approach that doesn’t exist anywhere in the country right now,” said David Lopez, a former NHU president who will head the Institute for Hispanic Educational Advancement on the East Side campus. “We’re going to educate Latino kids to be the workforce of California, at all levels of society and the economy.”

In addition to the research institute, a new graduate studies program by Santa Clara University will offer teaching credentials and master’s degrees to college students and teachers wishing to specialize in the education of bilingual and immigrant students. The transformation of the campus also will include the return of Latino College Preparatory Academy, a charter high school with about 400 students.

The private university has been gradually downsizing as students graduate or transfer to other colleges after its corporate parent, Laureate Education Inc., earlier this year ended a four-year struggle to expand enrollment through Internet classes and degree programs.

The mission of the new center, Lopez said this week, is to explore, test, measure, and advocate for the best methods of teaching Latino schoolchildren from poor, working-class, and immigrant families.


In its own announcement of the transition, SCU cited the urgency of the mission in a recent Pew Research Center report. The Pew center predicted Latino children will make up 25 percent of the nation’s youth up to age 8 by the year 2030. The report said Latino youngsters continue to lag behind non-Hispanic whites and Asian-Americans on most measures of academic success, including test scores and high school and college graduation rates.

Lopez said experts recruited by his institute would select proven or promising teaching methods and “try them out” at the high school moving onto the campus. SCU’s teachers in training could participate in the trials.

In a written statement SCU President Michael Engh, S.J., said, “We are pleased to provide important resources that will assist students in their professional studies and strengthen communities with opportunities for a better education and brighter future for their children.”

Essentially, the high school would become a laboratory for improving Latino academic achievement, but it wouldn’t be the only school. Lopez is already visiting other charter schools and inviting them to participate in large or small ways.

For example, he said, the new institute could help the schools improve reading instruction for English learners in the critical third grade, or get their students into algebra by eighth grade. Lopez said one successful San Jose charter high school has done relatively well only to see too many of its Latino graduates drop out of college. Charter schools feature strict discipline and lots of academic hand-holding, but it’s often sink-or-swim at competitive colleges.

“The problem was socialization,” Lopez said. “The students had the grades but they weren’t prepared for a different academic environment. We can help them find the right method for socializing their Latino students for college.”


Lopez’s institute is scheduled to open in mid-June and will be followed by the charter high school and SCU graduate program.

The transformation marks the latest and most dramatic changeover for the college. Established in 1981 in Oakland, NHU moved to San Jose in 1985 with ambitions of becoming the country’s leading institution for Latino education.

However, the school struggled to raise operating funds and increase enrollment even after a local philanthropist bankrolled the construction of a sparkling new building. The school’s directors agreed in 2010 to a sale to Laureate for an undisclosed sum.

Laureate’s ambitious plans to expand enrollment at NHU through Internet classes suffered a severe blow when the federal government reduced financial aid and online opportunities to liberal arts students across the country. Laureate expects to graduate its last remaining students and close the university in mid-2015.

The NHU Foundation, a nonprofit organization, will retain ownership of the campus and oversee the research institute and charter high school.

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