Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Taking It to the Next Level: As the Hispanic Population in America Booms, Hispanic Representation on American College Campuses Has So Far Been a Bust. but Educators Say Community Colleges Are Uniquely Positioned to Bridge the Gap. (Special Report: Hispanic focus)(Cover Story)

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Taking It to the Next Level: As the Hispanic Population in America Booms, Hispanic Representation on American College Campuses Has So Far Been a Bust. but Educators Say Community Colleges Are Uniquely Positioned to Bridge the Gap. (Special Report: Hispanic focus)(Cover Story)

Article excerpt

Two Hispanic men in Claremont, Calif., were chatting recently about their children. One beamed with pride as he talked about his teenage daughter's success in school. "She's getting straight A's in high school. And I'm going to send her to a community college," he said. The other man, who heads a California-based policy group that studies issues affecting Hispanic communities, was stunned.

"He was going to send her to a two-year school because he didn't realize she could go to a university," recalls Dr. Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI).

The man didn't know the difference between a two- and four-year institution, Pachon said--a mistake emblematic of the confusion many Hispanic parents have about American higher education.

Pachon said this lack of parental awareness is one of the driving forces behind a bigger problem: While the proportion of Hispanic youths in the U.S. population is surging, their numbers on college campuses--particularly at four-year schools--are tiny.

According to Pachon and other higher education officials, a large measure of blame for this disparity can be placed on a breakdown in communication among educational institutions, the students and their parents.

For now, they say, community colleges may be a small part of this problem, but they're potentially a huge pan of its solution, because the majority of Hispanic students in higher education are enrolled there. Educators say two-year schools need to market themselves to Hispanic youths as a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree, which has become almost a prerequisite in America for professional success.

POPULATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of college-age Hispanic students in America has swelled prodigiously in recent years, and it continues to do so.

The Census Bureau has also reported that the educational attainment levels of Hispanic students rank well below those of non-Hispanic White students. More than one-quarter of Hispanics 25 years and older had less than a ninth-grade education. Only 4 percent of non-Hispanic Whites have so little education. More than 20 percent of the non-Hispanic White population has at least a bachelor's degree. But only one-tenth of the Hispanic population has earned a baccalaureate.

Antonia Kilpatrick, assistant director of admissions and records at Tarrant County College District in Fort Worth, Texas, said students who don't finish high school suffer the biggest losses.

"Some of those students, we see them later on, possibly when they've been out in the work force 10 years and they realize they won't get promoted, that they are going nowhere," she says.

And while 53 percent of Hispanic high school graduates are qualified to attend a four-year institution, only 31 percent actually do, according to "Education = Success: Empowering Hispanic Youth and Adults," a report by the Educational Testing Service. The report also says that only 27 percent of Hispanics transfer from two-year to four-year institutions.

By 2015, if these trends continue, about 550,000 college-age Hispanics will not be found on any campus.

INCOMMUNICADO

So why aren't more Hispanics making use of higher education? College officials say although the reasons are many, most fall under one umbrella--lack of communication.

Kilpatrick said community colleges can't assume high school counselors and teachers know what two-year schools are.

"When I speak to rooms full of high school teachers and counselors, about 50 to 70 people, I always ask, `How many of you know anything about community colleges?'" Kilpalrick says. "And each time, only about 1 to 3 people raise their hands. The teachers don't recognize community colleges because they don't know anything about them."

This is a real problem, especially for Hispanic students, Kilpatrick said, because most of them launch their higher education careers at community colleges, which are more affordable and accessible than four-year colleges. …

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