HS News Network
Taking the Lead on Educating Latinos in TX- in less than 40 yrs, 1 in 4 will be Latinos
Photo: Latino Education
This article was submitted by Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO, Lumina Foundation for Education; Rip Rapson, president, Kresge Foundation; Carl Dalstrom, president and CEO, USA Funds; Linda P. Evans, president and CEO, The Meadows Foundation; Sue McMillin, president and CEO, Texas Guaranteed; Brent E. Christopher, president and CEO, Texas High School Project/Communities Foundation of Texas; and Wynn Rosser, executive director, Greater Texas Foundation.
In less than 40 years, one in four Americans will be Latino, and tens of millions of these Latino Americans will be young people. Those numbers represent tremendous potential: a vast and growing group of eager, responsible citizens — many from families who actively chose to be Americans.
Right now, though, we’re wasting that potential.
Today there are more than 2 million Latinos in college - a sizable total, but still one that represents less than 58 percent of Latino high school graduates ages 16-24. Among whites in that age group, the college-going rate tops 68 percent.
The gap is huge. And if left unaddressed as the Latino population swells, that gap could swallow enough raw potential to sink this nation. Clearly, for the sake of our economy and our future - and as a matter of social equity - we must provide college opportunities for Latino students and ensure their college attainment.
There are models to follow in this effort. For instance, we recently visited South Texas to participate in a rich learning experience focused on Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) - colleges and universities with student bodies that are at least 25 percent Latino. (Fifty-six percent of Latino students, including Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, Cubans, Dominicans and others from Latin countries, are enrolled in HSIs. In South Texas, because of regional demographics, all colleges and universities are HSIs.)
As part of our visit, we met the presidents of HSIs, K-12 leaders who are working diligently to create linkages between schools and colleges, students at HSIs who have remarkable stories to share, and foundation and community members who are working in the border neighborhoods to make college a reality for young people.
At the University of Texas-Brownsville, we met a biology professor who worked with a young man most faculty members wouldn’t even have noticed. To say that this student came from a humble upbringing is an understatement. His father spoke no English, and his mother worked as a dishwasher. Though he lacked adequate K-12 preparation, he did have a passion for science. The professor nurtured that passion, even going so far as to suggest that the young man present a paper in the professor’s stead at a conference. This opportunity increased the student’s confidence, further fueling his desire and opening many doors. He is now in graduate school at Harvard.
Stories like this abound at HSIs. They are incubators for success in the sciences, boasting an impressive record for sending young people to graduate school at top research universities. They do this by truly believing that these young people can be successful, and then providing them with mentoring, support and role models who share their backgrounds.
At South Texas College, we met Cynthia Fregoso, a 16-year-old dual-enrollment student who is the daughter of migrant workers. Cynthia’s family moves several times a month to look for work, and that often makes Cynthia the primary caretaker for her little brother who suffers from dyslexia. Yet she is taking college courses as well as Advanced Placement high school courses at a rapid pace - all with the goal of becoming a pharmacist. She says she draws inspiration from her parents’ hard work - and from their commitment to a better life for her.
These types of close family connections are central to the creative work being done at many HSIs. For example, the HSIs in South Texas bring the college process to families, meeting with them in their communities and demystifying the application process and college experience. Also, these institutions include family members in the on-campus college counseling sessions, making sure that everyone buys into the mission of attaining a degree.
There is also considerable work being done at the K-12 level with Latinos in South Texas. Middle school and high school teachers work with college faculty to align curricula so students progress smoothly. Likewise, K-12 administrators are taking the college-going message to children - starting in the first grade. Latino children are being introduced to possibilities, and as a result, college is becoming a goal, not merely a dream.
There are tens of millions of young Latinos who need to reach that goal - and all Americans will benefit when they do so. One of the best ways to make that happen is to support the nation’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions. South Texas shouldn’t be an isolated pocket of excellence. What’s happening there needs to be the norm.