Wednesday, August 5, 2009
The news that local colleges are seeing more Hmong students than ever before is not a shock -- though the increase is stark enough to be striking.
Where in 1993 there were only eight Hmong students at the University of Wisconsin Marathon County, today there are 126, representing about 9 percent of the student body. At Northcentral Technical College, there were 805 Asian students, most of them Hmong, comprising 5 percent of students at the school's Wausau campus.
This is the latest facet of the long -- and continuing -- story of Hmong integration in Wausau, beginning with the earliest refugees in the 1970s and continuing through generations to today's young Hmong adults and their children.
To be sure, none of the integration process happened in a vacuum. In this case, both colleges made real efforts to reach out to the Hmong population -- doing everything from offering a college training course for Hmong students at UWMC to broadcasting NTC advertisements on the Hmong-language radio programs of WNRB-LP 93.3 FM, which is operated by the Wausau Area Hmong Mutual Association.
And as is the case with many things, the more Hmong students attend, the easier it becomes to attract more Hmong students. That's in part because of a comfort factor, and it's also because recent grads have built a network of mentors, advisers and even tutors for Hmong students.
The high rate of growth in Hmong college attendance may be surprising, but the fact that it has happened is not. Hmong high school graduation rates here have for years outpaced the general population. As early as 1997, a Wisconsin Policy Research Institute study of Hmong educational performance found a 95 percent graduation rate for Asian students in heavily Hmong areas, a higher rate than that for white or non-Asian minority students.
Today, Hmong college graduates find themselves facing the choices faced by any college graduate: whether to seek opportunities in a new city, or remain at home in their communities.
We hope many decide to stay here. The often strong social bonds within the Hmong community mean that some local youth value getting an education close to home -- and may decide to build their own lives here for the same reason.
Local governments have been working on ways to attract and retain educated young people to the area. It's important that Hmong college graduates be a part of that equation.