This article is written in collaboration with the “¡Edúcate, es el momento!” campaign as part of their seven-day event promoting higher education for Latino students across the United States.
My seven-year-old daughter takes it for granted that she will go to college. In fact, the other day we were driving through the university campus where my stepfather works and both of my kids became totally fascinated when they learned that’s where I went to college.
What is that building there?
How about that one?
What did you learn in that big one over there?
I smiled as I drove and tried to answer their questions as best I could… and make it as exciting as possible. I want my kids to look forward to their time at college. And I don’t ever want there to be any question as to whether or not they will go to one.
Almost 30% of Latinos live in poverty. That translates into about 13.2 MILLION people. And out of that, more than 6 million are Latino children. The New York Times recently reported that Hispanics have been hit the hardest by the recent recession, which comes as no surprise, really, since we know that some of the biggest casualties of our country’s economic hardship are the construction, hospitality, and restaurant industries – for which Latinos form the backbone.
As a result of their financial instability, many Latino students and their families don't see college as a viable option. Although college enrollment is up among Latinos, we still have a long way to go. The financial aspect of putting a child through college is a big concern for parents. I know I wonder if I’ll be able to afford to send my children to a good university. But it seems like every week I have been learning about more and more scholarships and financial aid opportunities for Latino families. I’ll be sharing some of my favorites on Thursday.
In my opinion, here are the top five reasons why I think every Latino child in America should go to college:
TO BREAK THE CYCLE OF POVERTY
Persistent poverty has been linked to chronic illness and low cognitive skills. And if your parents live in poverty, or you are born into it, chances are greater that you, too, will live in poverty. But receiving a college education increases the chance that you will get a good paying job after you graduate. As I mentioned yesterday, most STEM graduates could potentially earn a six-figure salary upon graduation.
TO ENTER FIELDS WHERE LATINOS ARE NOT REPRESENTED
The number of Latinos in the innovation fields is paltry. This is SO surprising because Latinos are some of the most ingenious, creative, and innovative people on the planet. Just imagine what our people could accomplish if they had the knowledge gained from a college education! Let’s inspire and encourage our children to enter these STEM fields and make a difference. Not only does it benefit our children, but it also benefits society as a whole to have the ideas and skills of Latinos contributing to these fields.
TO FIND THEIR VOICE
College is a time to explore the things you like and dislike. You can take a class on watercolors or 18th century literature or biochemistry and discover your passion in life. You have time to read everything Cervantes ever wrote, or experiment with different art styles and media. This is really the moment where personal beliefs and interests are discovered, explored, and solidified. Look at Occupy Wall Street! This movement was created largely by college students and graduates who have come together to voice their opinions and make a change.
TO REALIZE THEIR DREAMS
This is America, where supposedly ANYONE can make their dreams come true with a little determination and a lot of hard work. But the reality today is that many of the poor work hard for their money and never seem to be able to get ahead. Perhaps we need to modify the concept and instead think of America as the place where you can go to find the tools to help you make your dreams a reality. And going to college is one of the MAJOR tools that Americans have at their disposal. Going to college allows students to explore career fields that they might otherwise never even know about. They can also develop specialized skills and network with others of like mind, which may in turn open doors that lead to a successful career. It is where our children find a career that they love, rather than a job that they hate.
TO CREATE CHANGE
Latino children need more role models to help inspire and encourage them to try their best in school. They need to see their own faces reflected in our success stories so that they can understand that they are precious and valuable and worthy members of our society. They should learn that they can make a difference. Latino college graduates can fill this role.
Most of all, in these difficult times, Latinos need leaders who love nuestra gente and are willing to fight for change. We need people who have the knowledge and expertise to help our communities. Think about just some of these issues facing Latinos today:
• Eighty percent of Latinos live in areas that failed to meet one U.S. EPA air quality standard. As a result, 60% of Latino children are more likely to suffer from asthma, and Latinos are three times as likely to die of asthma.
• Latinos have the highest high school dropout rate. They may quit school to go to work and help support their families, or simply because they don’t see college as a viable option. Students also quit when they are failing because they do not understand the subject, and no one is willing to help them.
• The current immigration debate is the biggest issue facing Latinos today. It doesn’t just affect one person, but families and communities and even the whole country can suffer from poor handling of this issue.
We need leaders who have a vested interest in our people, and who will create and enact laws that help ALL the citizens in the United States – including Latinos.