College Board Forum 2023

La Bienvenida: Key for Parent Engagement, Student Success, and Retention for All

Washington ranks 13th amongst states with the largest Latino population, with 13% of Washington residents declaring themselves Latino. Marcela Pattinson, director of undocumented initiatives at Washington State University (WSU), has made it her mission to engage with families to ensure student success in their transition to university. She does this through her program, La Bienvenida, an immersive Spanish-language orientation program for new WSU students and their families. 

La Bienvenida was founded in 2007, originally as part of the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP). Through the years, the program has adapted to meet the ever-changing needs of students and families. 

“We need to meet parents and students where they are, not expect them to come to us,” Marcela shared. With over a 300% increase in Latino students at WSU from 2002 to 2023, the university identified that measures needed to be taken in order to ensure success for this growing student demographic. 

Parent engagement is vital to student success, resulting in the creation of this interactive and culturally immersive program. The goal was to engage with parents and families in Spanish to reduce barriers for students, tackle fears and uncertainties they may have, and build trust in the institution to help them feel confident in trusting WSU to care for their child. 

That’s exactly what they have been able to accomplish through this two-day program. Students and families get to stay in residence halls, eat in dining centers, and attend workshops in classrooms to truly immerse themselves in WSU life. 

Workshops are hosted fully in Spanish and speakers discuss various topics, including understanding your financial package, living at WSU, and working together as a family and exploring expectations. In addition, undocumented students and families have the opportunity to schedule a free one-on-one appointment with an immigration attorney. 

As enrollment across higher education institutions continues to drop nationally, programs like La Bienvenida play a vital role in demonstrating the value and impact of a college education to students and families. Marcela’s goal is for a program like this to be implemented across all universities with large Latino student populations in hopes of making them and their families more comfortable with the changes brought on by going to college, as well as to increase retention and success for Latino students.