Hispanics outpace fellow minorities in higher education enrollment.
For the first time ever, Hispanics are the largest minority group attending U.S. four-year colleges and universities, say Pew findings examining higher education enrollment and demographic cohorts. Also for the first time, Hispanics comprise one-quarter (25.2 percent) of 18- to 24-year-old students in two-year colleges. At first glance, these findings seem surprising, says Sandra Yudilevich Espinoza, PhD, LCSW, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Social Work at Salem State University (SSU).
However, she says, after discussing the numbers with SSU staff assistant professional Lucy Corchado, Espinoza says the results make sense, since Latinos are the fastest- growing minority population in the U.S.
Due to the large birth rate among Latinos in addition to the immigration rate, this increase in college students “to some extent mirror” the population increase, Espinoza says.
Despite this group’s increasing overall number, however, Pew maintains that population growth is not the sole factor responsible for enrollment gains. The rate of Hispanics completing high school today is at an all-time high, meaning that more Hispanic young people are eligible to attend college than ever before.
The higher enrollment rates are not just due to population growth, Espinoza agrees, as this group is keenly focused on achievement and success.
“Latinos—some popular sentiment to the contrary—are as much strivers as anyone else, and certainly Latino parents want better for their children than what they had or have, as do the kids themselves,” Espinoza explains. “And, so they go to college, whether two- or four-year, depending on their interest, finances, and abilities.”
Previous generations of young Latinos faced specific challenges—parents were “less established” in various ways, Espinoza explains—“whether economically, culturally, linguistically, [and so on]”—which affected how their children fared.
Parents who faced financial or linguistic hardship had more difficulty helping their children overcome scholastic obstacles, she maintains, adding that the job market and economy were also different back then.
“This coincided with the state of the economy which made more jobs available, more openings and possibilities for the parents and the kids to work—so off to work they all went, or for some, have children; dropping out in this kind of situation had less immediate consequence,” Espinoza explains.
Today’s lagging economy also encourages young Hispanics to stay in school and enroll in institutions of higher education, Corchado adds. Knowing that they will have a harder time finding work without an education, young people are making greater efforts to achieve academically.
Successful Latino adults are also paying it forward, Corchado says, hoping to make a difference for their younger counterparts.
Additionally, students who excel are prepared to take advantage of opportunities, such as student loans, to advance their educations.
Schools are also reaching out more to Hispanics, and colleges—especially community colleges, Espinoza notes—are creating more practical programs that go beyond a traditional liberal arts education, making them more attractive to Latinos.
“Some fields, like health and some sciences that are clamoring for ‘minority students,’ not as an affirmative action program, but as a way to meet the needs of a changing population—particularly in graduate school, but college as well; there are minority fellowships in these areas that were not there so much before,” she adds.
Some young Hispanics are in danger of falling through the cracks, however. Many who arrived in the States as young children are still struggling, despite the encouraging numbers, Espinoza maintains. These undocumented young people find it difficult to succeed in environments that bar them from the system.
“Many states, like Georgia for example, have made it pretty much impossible for undocumented kids to enroll in four-year colleges in the state system,” she explains. “At the University of Georgia, there is a group of students and a couple of professors that created a program called ‘Freedom University.’”
Freedom University is an all-volunteer non-profit organization that provides college-level instruction to academically-qualified students, regardless of their immigration status.
When one cohort does better, everyone benefits; if we have more Latinos excel in school and in the job market, the future for everyone is brighter, Espinoza argues.
“What it means is that the students create for themselves the possibility of a better life for themselves and for their families,” she contends. “For society as a whole, it can only be a boon…how can it not be? An educated populace can create a great society—one that is forward-thinking and inclusive and takes care of everyone and [creates] people that will stand up to tyranny.”
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