Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Clock Is Ticking

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Clock Is Ticking

Article excerpt

With nearly 13 million Hispanics in the United States under the age of 18, America's higher education system is bracing for an influx of new students.

Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States, and the recent influx of Hispanics has turned some states into "majority-minority" populations. Texas has announced that it has joined California, New Mexico and Hawaii in the club, with a 50.2 percent minority population.

According to March 2002 U.S. Census Department data, there are nearly 37.5 million Hispanics in the United States. That's one in eight across the country. While the survey also found that two in five Hispanics in the United States were born somewhere else, that statistic will change drastically over the next generation, when the 34.4 percent of Hispanics who are under age 18 grow up and raise families.

So where does all this number-crunching get us? To postsecondary education. That 34.4 percent of Hispanic children in elementary and secondary schools now will soon be old enough for college. But will college be ready for them? If not, an enormous number of Hispanic youth will go underserved, which will surely have far-reaching consequences as these children grow up and join the work force.

Hispanic students often struggle with lower incomes and attend schools that are underfunded and ill-equipped to handle the language and cultural challenges inherently associated with immigrant populations. Regardless, Hispanic families are eager for their children to go on to attain the highest level of education possible, but lack of communication between schools and families can lead to confusion about necessary test scores, funding options and application procedures.

With the U.S. Hispanic population historically concentrated in California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Mexico and Arizona, these states have more of the onus to be ahead of the pack in educating their Hispanic students. And with nearly half (45.6 percent) of Hispanics living in city centers, according to the census data, city colleges are pressured even more to cater to these students. But with funding shortages and cutbacks, colleges are already struggling to provide the services these students need to succeed.

ARE COMMUNITY COLLEGES FILLING THE BILL?

While community colleges with their flexible schedules and low tuitions seem like a good fit for many Hispanic students seeking post-secondary education, research shows that these schools have low graduation rates for Hispanics.

"Hispanic youth benefit from going to more selective colleges and universities because these institutions often do a better job in getting their Hispanic undergraduates to graduate than less selective institutions," reads a 2004 report by the Pew Hispanic Trust, which analyzed the National Educational Longitudinal Survey, developed by the U.S. Department of Education - one of the largest and most representative data sets available on education trends.

The study went on to state, "White youth beginning at community colleges are nearly twice as likely as Hispanic youth beginning at community colleges to finish a bachelor's degree."

The factors that lead to this outcome, however, are not as clear-cut as attending a selective school and being encouraged throughout the educational process. Factors that many advocates have come to know all too well also affect students' performance.

Some elements that set Hispanic students apart include: "Delayed enrollment in college, greater financial responsibility for family members and living with family while in college rather than in campus housing," the report found.

The irony in all this is that previous research has found that as a group, Hispanic families have enormous respect for education and are eager for their children to attain as high a level of education as possible.

Dr. Maria Estela Zarate, the director of education policy research at the Tomâs Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California, digs deeper into the NELS data, explaining that while the data set is one of the biggest and covers the most time - 12 years from the first questionnaire in 1988 to the last in 2000 - those factors also lead to much missing data. …

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