Panel Seeks Ways to Help Hispanics in Higher Education

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert Sanchez Daily Herald Staff Writer

Lagging educational achievement among some Hispanics is a problem that affects us all, a panel of experts said Friday in Naperville.

"This is not a Latino story," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based research and policy analysis group. "This is not about Hispanic achievement. This is about the United States of America."

As the number of Hispanics in the nation's labor force continues to increase, so does the demand for educated workers. Still, the experts said, the percentage of Hispanics attending and graduating from college lags behind other ethnic groups.

"Who is going to do the jobs that exist in this country?" Suro said. "You can't do it with this work force unless you dramatically increase the number of Latinos with four-year degrees and two-year degrees."

Suro was among the nearly 200 educators, policy-makers and Hispanic leaders who came together to explore ways to improve the success of Hispanics at colleges and universities. The conference was hosted by Northern Illinois University at its Naperville campus.

"The time of talk has passed," NIU President John G. Peters said. "The time of action is now."

Solutions proposed during the all-day conference included greater parental involvement, better high school class choices and more access to financial aid.

"This is not a problem that lends itself to singular or simple solutions," Suro said. "It's going to require action on many, many different fronts."

Although just 6 percent of students who earned college degrees in 2001 in Illinois were Hispanic, panel members said a vast majority of Hispanic parents want higher education for their children.

In fact, Peters said, studies confirm Hispanics place higher value on education than any other ethnic group.

"So the aspiration and the value is there," Peters said. "Unfortunately, so are the roadblocks."

Louis Tornatzky, vice president of research with the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, said many Hispanic parents lack the "college knowledge" to prepare their children for higher education. …