By Jeff Mellott, Daily News-Record
Webster Contreras might have been attending college in San Antonio now, but the EMU freshman decided to stay close to his home in Harrisonburg.
Maria Monroy, also a freshman, could have left town to go to college. But she decided to remain in the city, where her family lives.
They decided to attend EMU, in part, because of a university initiative to attract Hispanics from the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County area. The 10 students in the program contributed to a 5.3 percent rise in overall enrollment from one year ago.
Last spring, EMU announced a program designed to bring local Hispanics to the campus by making the $24,000 annual tuition more affordable.
The initiative discounted tuition on a sliding scale, based on the students� expected family contribution as determined by the application for federal student aid. The discount combined with the possibility of federal assistance was expected to make EMU�s tuition competitive with state-supported schools.
Those financial considerations played a role in the decision by Monroy, 18, and Contreras, 18, to come to EMU.
Financial considerations were only part of the decision-making process for the freshmen.
Monroy, who arrived from Guatemala four years ago, was also impressed by EMU�s hospitality. “Everybody greeted me with a smile on their faces, which at other colleges I didn�t get,” she said.
Monroy is the first in her family to go to college and is aware of that she could be a role model for her younger brothers, Heiber, 15; and Erick, 12.
She likes being so close to her family. “I can go home, and I can come back,” she said.
Contreras was almost lured away to Texas to go to college at San Antonio. He has relatives there, and he likes the weather.
Contreras, who is studying nursing, said EMU�s financial incentive played a role in his decision to stay in Harrisonburg. While still a student, Contreras is called often called upon by others Spanish-speaking people in the community to go with them to the doctor and dentist as a translator.
“I see here in our Spanish community we need help in the medical field,” he said.
Contreras and Monroy are two of the six Hispanics from the city. Two more Hispanics who enrolled at EMU live in Rockingham County, and one each from Augusta County and Albemarle County increased the total to 10. No Hispanics from the local area attended EMU one year ago. The university considers the local area to be Harrisonburg and Rockingham County and the counties that adjoin Rockingham.
Vice President for Enrollment and Marketing Shirley Yoder is very encouraged by the enrollment of the local Hispanics.
“We had Spanish-speaking persons from other states and other parts of the state,” she said. When EMU realized that no local Hispanics attended EMU, Yoder said the university knew something was wrong, especially with the growth of that population in the area.
“It�s one thing to be involved in service activities overseas. It�s another,” she said, “to be a service in your own community.”
The group of Hispanic students from the area helped EMU increase its overall enrollment from one year ago, which saw a record 406 graduate.
The school has 1,513 students compared to 1,436 students, both full-time and part-time, Yoder said. Of those, 933 are undergraduates.
The campus has 880 full-time undergrads compared to 882 last year.
The overall enrollment includes an increase of first year students, 208 compared to 196 one year ago. This year�s number is a step back toward the 240 first-year students EMU enrolled two years ago.
The 10 local Hispanic students also helped EMU increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the campus, Yoder said. U.S. minorities make up 21 percent of the freshman class, which Yoder said is a doubling of the previous class.
Contreras said he could recommend EMU to his friends.
“They help you learn,” he said of EMU, “and you also learn spiritually.