Through October 15, the United States celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to learn about and appreciate Latinx history and culture. At Common App, this is also a time to reflect about our mission and learn about the systemic inequities and barriers that Latinx students and families face in their pursuit of opportunities.

Working to overcome these barriers for students is increasingly important, as students-of-color are becoming a fast growing student population using Common App. Since 2018, the number of underrepresented minority students applying to college through Common App have increased nearly 30%. Since that same time period, over 3.5 million applications have been submitted by Hispanic and Latinx students. Yet our data also show that Latinx students are disproportionately underrepresented on the Common App.

One way Common App is working to support these underrepresented students is to connect them to a wider array of diverse institutions, including Minority Serving Institutions (MSI). This year, Common App welcomed nearly 25 MSIs to its membership for the 2022-2023 application season. We had the opportunity to sit down with one of our new members*, President Madeline Pumariega from Miami Dade College to learn more about the barriers facing Hispanic and Latinx students.


About President Madeline Pumariega

Madeline Pumariega is the first female president appointed to lead one of the nation’s largest educational institutions, Miami Dade College (MDC). Adding to the historic nature of this appointment is the fact that Pumariega is an alumna of MDC.

In her new role as MDC president, Pumariega has championed a new strategic plan for the College developed with input from more than 1,000 stakeholders. The plan focuses on five key priorities: reimagining for student success; accelerating academic excellence and innovation; valuing a culture of care to advance student outcomes; fueling the talent needs of a global economy; and securing the future of the College.

Pumariega has also prioritized working with business partners to identify the skills needed by key industries and tailoring higher education programs to match those needs. This intentional forming of strategic alliances and job pathways between companies and MDC students accelerates each graduate’s ability to enter the workforce immediately.

Driving her relentless pursuit is the passion to develop leaders and build thriving communities. Pumariega clearly recognizes higher education’s role in transforming lives and communities and is designing her presidency at MDC to position the College to deliver on its mission in a post-pandemic, technology-enabled world. 


1. Can you talk about your background and what led you to Miami Dade College?

I started my career at Miami Dade College on an athletic scholarship, giving me the opportunity to play basketball at MDC. After completing my academic studies, I then came back to MDC where I spent the next 20 years at the College holding the position as a part-time advisor and assistant women’s basketball coach. From there I continued growing into different roles as dean, and then eventually started my first chapter as a college campus president for MDC’s Wolfson Campus in Downtown, Miami. I then pivoted to run a non-profit organization called Take Stock in Children where I was dedicated to advancing policy that helped break the cycle of poverty through scholarships, mentorships, and hope. After doing that for several years, I was then tapped to lead the Florida College System, being named the first female and first Hispanic to take on that role.

This solidified my purpose, which is always to make a difference in the lives of students through education. I later came back to MDC to serve as the first female President of Miami Dade College. I’ve always considered Miami Dade College home for me, as my mom went through the doors of MDC to learn English which helped her become a teacher later on in her life.


2. Can you tell us some of the ways Miami Dade is leading the way in advocating for Hispanic and Latinx students?

At Miami Dade College we focus on being intentional in how we serve our diverse community, including our Hispanic population which makes up 75% of our student body. Given that MDC enrolls more Hispanic students than any other college or university, we are committed to meeting the different needs of our students through student support services that provide mentorship and guidance in an individualized and customized way.

As we continue striving to eliminate barriers of access in our community, more than 80% of our full-time, first-time in college students receive financial aid and we are proud to offer awards, grants or scholarship aid that exceeds tuition and fees. Scholarships such as the American Dream Scholarship and the new Presidential Scholars Scholarship help students attend college without incurring debt. MDC’s Last Mile Scholarship and Welcome Back Sharks promote completion for Hispanic students who are close to completing a degree and those who have stopped attending college.

Most recently, Miami Dade College was named a finalist for the 2022 Examples of Excelencia distinction for its Connect4Success (C4S) program, a collaboration with Florida International University to establish a guided transfer pathway that facilitates the admission of MDC graduates with an associate in arts degree to FIU baccalaureate programs. Last year, MDC was awarded the prestigious Seal of Excelencia, the nation’s premier authority on efforts to accelerate Latino student success in higher education,

We point to our success in the retention and completion of Hispanic students who go on to make positive impacts in our community. As the cultural engine, Miami Dade College has touched the lives of more than two million students who make up our thriving community.


3. What are some unique challenges Hispanic and Latinx students face in pursuing a college education? What do you think colleges across the country should be doing to help more Latinx and Hispanic students get to college?

Unfortunately, many Hispanic students are met with the challenges of pursuing their studies because of a number of reasons which include a lack of funds, the need to care for dependents, and or work obligations. It is essential for institutions of higher education to expand opportunities and eliminate barriers of access by offering flexible modalities and innovative curriculum to support equity and success.

As a proud predominantly minority community college, MDC serves students of all backgrounds and walks of life and provides enriching learning experiences that enable their success at MDC and beyond. Providing personalized advice and extra guidance on their academic journey, especially if they are the first in their families to go to college can give students an extra boost to success. It’s also essential to address students’ personal as well as academic needs to keep students in school and on track toward earning their degrees.

Lastly, being able to give students that are working and balancing a family an opportunity to complete their degrees enhances their chances of achievement in their future pathways. For that reason, it’s imperative for every college to embrace its responsibility to serve as an economic, cultural, and civic leader for the advancement of our diverse global community.


5. Can you tell us about a memorable success story of one of your Hispanic/Latinx students?

The impact of our dual-language Honors College program is creating pathways to success for so many students in our community. This year,  three MDC Honors College students, Ana Camba Gomes, Fabiana Gonzalez Zambrano, and Romina Cano Velasquez will transfer to MIT this fall. All three of the students moved to this country less than 5 years ago and graduated with the highest honors and distinction in May. We are so proud of their accomplishments!

*Miami Dade College recently joined Common App. The institution is currently preparing their application and plans to launch in the 2022-2023 application cycle.