Latinos in higher education; we’re finally making it happen. The image that comes to mind is of Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, grinning from ear to ear, fist-pumping with one arm in the air. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos are now, for the first time, the largest minority group among the nation’s four-year college and university students. And for the first time, Hispanics also made up one-quarter (25.2%) of all 18 to 24-year-old students enrolled in two-year colleges.
Certainly, that’s something worth celebrating. I guess it means our kids are paying attention—that the generations coming up behind us, those benefiting from my generation and many more before us, are gaining better access to more and better opportunities as a people. That’s the American way! And it was our parents’ and grandparents’ plan from the beginning; was it not?
What it does not mean is that higher education among Latinos is no longer an issue. It still is, and will likely continue to be one for generations to come.
There are still too many places in this country where young Latinos have never even once given higher education the most remote of thoughts; where others have dreamed about it but “know” it is not within their reach; where too many young people have altogether given up on their own education. Latinos still also make up the largest population of high school dropouts in this country; and there are many more who start off bright-eyed and hopeful but never make it to the finish line of their college careers. Or if they do, it’s only to realize they can do nothing with their degrees, because they are undocumented. Yes, this is still a problem for many despite President Obama’s deferred adjudication.
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According to the US Department of Education, Latinos still represent the ethnic group with the highest incidents of young people between the ages of 16 and 24 dropping out of high school and not obtaining their high school diplomas or an equivalency. As a matter of fact, as of 2010, 15.1% of US Latinos in this age group were classified as dropouts, in comparison to 5.1% of their white counterparts and 8% of African American students. Still, that 15.1% is significantly lower than the 32.4% of Latinos who were considered dropouts in 1990, just 10 years ago. So there’s yet another indication that things are getting better for our young people.
In fact they are, and that is great. Still, for those 15.1% not graduating or obtaining their GED, the prospects for their future don’t looking so bright. They’re looking at lower wages and less income throughout their lifetimes. And while you may think that a high school diploma or a college degree don’t necessarily guarantee access to a higher quality of living, especially these days, one can’t deny that they certainly do improve one’s odds.
The Pew Hispanic Center’s findings are a rightful victory for Latinos, young and old. However, in the longer scheme of our shared story as a people, it is a small victory that means we are on the right path, but with much work left to do. It means we should continue to motivate, encourage and teach our children that higher education is the path they should always choose… a message perhaps, to stay on course and keep pulling ourselves forward.