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Education

Tomas Rivera Lecturer Calls for Greater Educational Opportunity for Latinos

Tomas Rivera Lecturer Calls for Greater Educational Opportunity for Latinos

Photo: Luis Ubinas (Ford Foundation)

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As a young boy, Luis Ubinas grew up poor in the South Bronx. His mother, bent over her sewing machine, imagined a better future for her son. From these humble beginnings, he went on to graduate from Harvard College, where he was named a Truman Scholar, and Harvard Business School, where he graduated with highest honors. He now heads the Ford Foundation, the second-largest philanthropy in the U.S., with more than $10 billion in assets.

In the just-published 28th Tomas Rivera Lecture, he offers keen perspectives on the challenges and opportunities for propelling Latinos into higher education and productive careers.

Ubinas presented his remarks as a keynote speaker at the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) annual conference earlier this year. The lecture is named in honor of the late Dr. Rivera, a professor, scholar, poet, author and former president of the University of California, Riverside. Rivera also served on the board of trustees of Educational Testing Service (ETS). This is the fourth year that AAHHE and ETS have collaborated to publish the annual lecture.

In the address he discussed questions of opportunity that face all Americans, namely, “How do we restore the belief in limitless opportunity that has always defined our unique American experience? How do we make sure every American, rich or poor, knows that if he or she is willing to work hard that — like my mother, like Tomas Rivera’s father — this country is eager for their contribution?”  These are particularly relevant in the Latino community, Ubinas contends.

According to Ubinas, one solution to improving academic performance in underserved communities (a focus of the Ford Foundation), and one that is gathering momentum, is the idea of extended learning time. “The more time kids spend in school with teachers, the better off they’re going to be,” Ubinas says. “This involves a school calendar that moves everyone to longer school days, longer school weeks and longer school years.” Earlier this year the Ford Foundation launched a national campaign promoting this idea called “Time to Succeed.”

Ubinas also noted the benefit of community colleges where more than half of all Latinos attend. He offered examples of outstanding colleges and noted that they, “… not only provide training that is academically rigorous, they are offering a … path toward higher education.” He also called for universal transfer for community college credits and creating programs, such as the Ford Fellows, that provide financial support for scholars at the pre-doctoral, dissertation and post-doctoral levels. There are currently 2,000 Latino Ford Fellows.