GRAND RAPIDS — Davenport University wants to increase the number of Latino students enrolled at its campuses across Michigan and in online courses through a new outreach initiative.
Carlos Sanchez recently joined the private, Grand Rapids-based Davenport University as executive director of a new Latino program that seeks to recruit more Latino staff, faculty and students.
Sanchez comes to Davenport from Ferris State University, where he worked for 10 years as director of Latino Business and Economic Development, recruiting program participants in Grand Rapids and the lakeshore.
At Davenport, Sanchez cites a business case for the new initiative using demographic data that show Latinos account for about 20 percent of the U.S. population 18 to 34 years old, an age group that’s projected to grow 25 percent over five years.
“The Latino community continues to grow at a pace that is constant and will continue growing,” Sanchez told MiBiz. “From the business standpoint of a university, whether a public or private university, that is where we need to focus on efforts because that is the community that is growing the most.”
Students of Latino descent presently account for 7 percent of Davenport University’s 5,200 undergraduate and graduate students. Sanchez hopes to significantly grow that percentage in the years ahead.
Davenport launched the effort as Latinos represent the nation’s fastest-growing demographic. The U.S. Census Bureau in 2021 reported that the nation had a Hispanic or Latino population of 62.1 million people in 2020, a 23-percent increase from 2010.
The university hired Sanchez to spearhead work with the Latino community as priorities in Davenport’s Vision 2025 strategic plan “strongly emphasize our commitment to better serve the Latino community,” said President Richard Pappas.
“Carlos is the perfect candidate to help lead this work for us by building relationships across the state that will broaden opportunities and align support for the Latino community, one of the nation’s fastest-growing and most underrepresented populations in higher education,” Pappas said.
Davenport will start out by hiring more bilingual staff and faculty, Sanchez said.
Unless the university first adds more Latino staff and bilingual faculty, prospective Latino students “may not see themselves in the university” and “they may not feel as welcome,” he said.
The university in particular wants to bring in more Latino faculty in underrepresented areas such as health care and technology, which Sanchez expects will lead to higher Latino enrollments in those fields.
“Our young Latino students can’t see themselves in tech because they don’t see anybody that looks like them in tech. Somehow, we need to change that in working with the industry,” Sanchez said.
Davenport for years has sought to grow its Latino enrollment. Hiring a director for a Latino program who oversees recruitment makes the strategy more intentional, Sanchez said.
The university also wants the initiative to go beyond its campuses in the state. Davenport will reach out to recruit Latinos in Michigan as well as from across the nation for both in-person and online courses, he said.
“We’re going to focus first and foremost on those that are next to our campuses, but also those that we can also bring online from other states,” said Sanchez, who has worked for years on Latino initiatives.
At Ferris State, Sanchez launched and managed LEADeres, a Latino-centric leadership program in West Michigan. Then-Gov. Rick Snyder in 2015 appointed Sanchez to the Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan.
He also served as interim executive director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan and as executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Grand Rapids, where he also launched the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Sanchez is a Davenport alumnus who earned an undergraduate degree in 2007 in international business. In going to work for Davenport, he saw the opportunity to create a new initiative that can raise the number of Latino students earning a college degree at the university and “to play such a pivotal role in creating new and stronger opportunities for the Latino community.”
“The idea of starting something from scratch always excites me,” he said.