Metro Atlanta / State News 7:21 p.m. Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Georgia colleges recruit growing population of Latino students

By Laura Diamond

If Georgia’s public colleges are to succeed -- and the state’s economy is to flourish -- during the next couple of decades, recruiters must learn how to convince a growing group of students, and their families, that higher education is a good deal.

Already they are trying out new tactics to recruit Latino students, a group that will soon make up nearly one in four of Georgia’s college-age residents. Sheer numbers make this an increasingly desirable demographic for colleges and for the state’s economic well-being.

But reaching these students can be daunting. Recruiters and students face several obstacles financial and cultural, including language barriers, teens’ desires to support their families, a lack of knowledge about college and concerns over how to pay for it — especially if they are undocumented.

That means recruiters have to do more than just hang up posters in high school guidance offices. Instead, having learned the crucial role family plays, they go where students and their relatives are — churches, festivals, sporting events and other community gatherings.

Last month, Georgia Perimeter College recruiter Eric Cuevas waited until people walked up to his booth at Fiesta Georgia, one of the state’s largest Latino festivals. Then he approached them, talked about the two-year college and put fliers in their hands.

“If you want to get the students, you have to win over the ‘abuelas,’