KU gets $2 million grant to help recruit, support migrant students

'KU can feel intimidating, like it’s not a place for them'

Stacy Mendez, left, and Ngondi Kamatuka talk about Kansas University's new College Assistance Migrant Program, aimed at recruiting and supporting migrant students at KU. Mendez is director of the program, which is located within KU's existing Center for Educational Opportunity Programs, directed by Kamatuka.

Margarita Alely Nuñez Arroyo knows getting to Kansas University, much less staying there, isn’t easy for migrant students.

Her parents did not go to college. When she moved from California to Emporia in the middle of high school, following her father’s work, she knew no one. And she’s been working to pay her way at KU, where she’s now in her third year.

“The money that the parents make is very low. The odds for them to go to a four-year college is not good,” Nuñez said. “To make a program that targets them, and to make them feel like they’re visible … even when everything else is telling them they can’t or they shouldn’t go, I think it’s a wonderful program.”

A new program launching this fall, though it’s coming too late for Nuñez to participate, will help future KU students like her during their freshman year.

KU announced last week that it received a five-year, $2 million U.S. Department of Education grant to establish a Heartland College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP.

KU CAMP, one of more than 40 such programs nationwide, will be based at KU but also serve students at three other Midwest schools experienced in working with first-generation, low-income students: Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan.; Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Neb.; and Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City, Iowa.

KU, within its Achievement and Assessment Institute, already has a Center for Educational Opportunity Programs, which has helped Nuñez and other low-income students.

CAMP, however, is targeted specifically at migrant students. It aims to recruit and retain students who are migratory or seasonal farmworkers, or children of such workers, enrolled in their first year of undergraduate studies.

CAMP pays for about half of students’ tuition their freshman year, a small stipend to defray living expenses, a loaner laptop computer and personal coaching from university staff, according to KU. Only U.S. citizens or permanent residents are eligible, said CAMP director Stacy Mendez.

The $2 million is enough to help 175 students over the life of the grant across the four schools.

At least for now, only a sliver of those will be at KU.

KU’s goal is to enroll five CAMP students this fall, and three freshmen are signed up so far, Mendez said.

That’s partly why the recruitment piece of the program is important, especially for KU, Mendez said.

Migrant students often are ethnic minorities or even refugees, may not speak English as their native language, come from families where no one went to college, have had interrupted schooling or don’t have money to pay for college.

Many probably don’t believe a big, four-year research institution like KU is possible, Mendez said. “KU can feel intimidating, like it’s not a place for them.”

But Mendez and Center for Educational Opportunity Programs director Ngondi Kamatuka say KU wants them here.

“The mission of the University of Kansas is to educate Kansans and the world,” Kamatuka said. “It behooves the University of Kansas to open its doors to all the students from the global community … we all bring different life experiences to the table.”

In addition to tuition help, CAMP will arrange group activities, help find jobs, help identify future tuition funding sources and tutoring for participants, the program leaders said. The idea is to create a smaller community within the big campus to ensure participants feel like they belong.

“Access alone is not enough,” Kamatuka said.

It’s now been many years ago, but Kamatuka himself came to the United States as a refugee from Namibia.

He said first landing at a tiny school, Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan., helped him segue into KU, where he went on to earn a doctoral degree.

Jumping into a big school without help, “I would have had difficulty navigating my new culture,” Kamatuka said. “I’m one of these students.”