Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Top Five Reasons Why Latino Children Need to Go to College

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:

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. 

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.  

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. 

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. 

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.


  1. Monica,
    Your post was spot on. Latino parents need to understand the importance of instilling this idea in their children's lives consistently regardless if the parent's themselves did not attend or attain a degree.
    There is no doubt in my mind that children who's parent's have attained a higher education degree will be more likely to follow suit. It's the parent's that did not have, were not able to or simply chose not to complete at least a 4 your degree that is our most significant weakness. If the parent's have given up on the idea then more likely than not, so will their children creating a fatal and critical self-limiting belief.
    Thank you again for such a poignant and well written post.

  2. This is a wonderful post indeed. Thank you for writing it. I really do think more Latino children need to go to college. It should be encouraged and expected of them just as it is caucasian children.

    Not to be adversary, but although the negative statistics are great for encouraging adults to then encourage their children to pursue higher education, we should be weary of using them on children. I only say this based on my personal experience. I was a bright student growing up and I always expected to go to college. My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic and my mother in particular always taught me to finish what I started. However, when I went to college, I received a letter every single term/semester (it was 3 terms when I started and then the college shifted to 2 semesters) telling me that I was high risk of dropping out because I was a Latina. I was sent statistics about drop-out rates for Latinos based on first semester, first year, etc. I found this disheartening. Although they were trying to encourage me to continue with my education, I felt as though those letters were just telling me they expected me to fail. I got a letter each term/semester until I graduated summa cum laude. I appreciate what my college was trying to do but I didn't like the negative approach. Maybe there is another way to encourage Latino students to 1) go to school 2) stay in school and 3) graduate that's not so negative? Not sure. Also, I started off as a science major and changed to English because it's what I loved. Although yes we need more Latinos in STEM fields, I think Latino children should be encouraged to pursue their dreams (as you said). If their dream is to pursue a career in a STEM related field, then by all means!

    Anyways, I love this post and thank you so much for writing it! We definitely need to empower Latinos with education. :-)

  3. Sylvia and Raquel, thank you both for your comments.

    Sylvia, I agree that as parents we should never stop encouraging our kids to attend college. I think we have to set the bar high. Our kids can, and will, meet our high expectations. I don't know how we will be able to afford to send them both to college, but I have faith that they will both graduate from one. We just have to keep our eyes open for the opportunities as they present themselves.

    Raquel - How terrible! I think it is awful that you kept getting those letters. I would think that they would have the opposite effect, actually, and be very discouraging for students. You are right, I think that our goal
    should be to encourage and empower our kids, not set them up to fail.

    And as an English major who LOVES science, I'm sorry if I implied that we should only encourage kids to major in the STEM fields. What I meant to convey was that if your child loves science and technology, you should
    nurture that interest and help them to explore it further.


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