Answering the Call for Improving Educational Opportunities for Latinos

By Leticia Bustillos, Ph.D, Associate Director, Education Policy Project, NCLR

GraduationFrom the White House to the hallways of our schools, we’ve all heard the call.  Now, with the release of The State of Latinos in Higher Education in California by The Campaign for College Opportunity, we can see it materialize in Technicolor.  And the message is clear: Improving access to college and ensuring that our Latino students finish with a degree cannot just be a dream—it must become our reality today.

The data contained in this report are not new and certainly not earth-shattering for those of us in the field.  But what the report provides is an accurate and startling portrait of not only the Latino educational experience in California, but also the national Latino experience.

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  • Forty-two percent of Latino adults 25 years or older are without a high school diploma, while only 11 percenthave a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Among our high school graduates, less than 30 percent  took the minimum requirements to be considered college-ready.
  • Nearly 69 percent of freshmen are enrolled in community colleges, yet only four out of every 10 students complete college in six years.
  • The picture is slightly better in the University of California system, where 74 percent of Latinos graduate within six years, yet less than 5 percent of first-time freshmen enrolled in the fall 2012 semester are Latino.

This is a reality that cannot be ignored. 

Dia de los Ninos 3At the NCLR, we believe that all students have limitless potential to succeed in education and beyond.  Yet the educational barriers they encounter are great, from poorly resourced schools to inadequate access to college preparation to challenging curricula.  The policies of today have yielded the outcomes noted above and a host of questions that have yet to be answered.  Why aren’t more of Latino students in K–12 accessing college prep courses?  What is driving our students to community colleges?  What options are open to our adult learners who want to return to school and obtain their credentials?  Are students really underprepared for college or are there systemic practices in place that need reexamination?

Raising the educational attainment of Latinos cannot just be a hope—it must be a national priority as well, as Hispanics represent nearly 40 percent of all students in the 65 largest urban school districts in the country.  Latinos are the fastest-growing and youngest demographic in our nation, and our future economic stability and growth depends on their success in the classroom today.  Tomorrow’s policies must therefore ensure that all Latino students have equal access to excellent educational opportunities that lay the groundwork for success in college and in life.

Equality of access does not just involve the delivery of rigorous content and effective instruction.  It also includes sharing the knowledge of what it takes to succeed in college across cultures and communities.  Just as we once dared to dream to go to space, we must dare to dream that this generation and all future generations of Latinos will be among the most educated citizens in our country.  With deliberate action, we can realize this dream.  Only then can we say we have truly answered the call.


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