Latino Education Roundup: Strangers in a Strange Land

Ivy league schools actively recruiting low-income, minority students to diversify their campuses is nothing new. But while getting into an elite college is quite an accomplishment for any student and may afford one bragging rights, for many students of color the experience isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, explains Liz Willen in a Hechinger Report article.

For Daniel Inoa and Natan Santos, Afro-Latino students from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico respectively, their freshman year at Dartmouth University was a strange trip to a vastly different world from what they had known. A place where many of the inhabitants were well off and white and no one knew the bachata or the merengue, Willen writes.

There were a lot of weird looks, Inoa tells Willen, recalling the side-eye he and Santos got at a fraternity party from a member who told them, “You look suspicious.” Sadly, sidelong glances aren’t an anomaly for first-gen minority students who often feel out of place, says Inoa.

“We are expected to fail,” Inoa told Willen, repeating a common stereotype of poor black and Latino young men, while pointing towards Dartmouth’s campus, which is widely considered among the most beautiful in the United States, and is replete with symbols of privilege: brick buildings, lush lawns, and stately libraries. “We are not supposed to be here.”

His feelings of alienation are natural, given that only 746 of the 4,410 undergraduates at Dartmouth are black and Latino, Willen notes. In fact, “fewer than 1 percent of children from the bottom-fifth income level of American families”—which disproportionately consists of minorities—“attend elite colleges,” she adds.

But don’t expect that ratio to improve anytime soon. If President Trump has his way, writes Willen—citing this administration’s recent decision to rescind Obama-era guidelines endorsing the use of race in college admissions—student body diversity, or the lack thereof, at elite colleges will likely get worse.

Unfortunately, the odds of getting into and attending college, much less finishing a degree, already aren’t great for impoverished, first-gen minority students. According to another recent story produced by the Hechinger Report, an independent, nonprofit newsroom focused on education, one in four of those students don’t even make it to their sophomore year.

Student debt report
UnidosUS recently partnered with the UNC Center for Community Capital on a report focused on the Latino experience in higher education. Click the image to read the report.


That’s where federal programs like the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), which was established in 1972 to give the children of agricultural workers a leg up in college, come in, writes Wayne D’Orio, a reporter for the Hechinger Report. Jerry Gomez-Delgado, now 24 and a graduate student at Fresno State, told D’Orio that the program—which teaches undergraduates the skills and study habits they need to succeed in college, and provides regular counseling, as well as occasional stipends and free food—was a life-saver.

“When I started [in 2013] I weighed 145 pounds. In the first three months, I lost 15 pounds,” he said, recalling his freshman-year struggles and how he very nearly dropped out.

Thanks to CAMP, though, Jerry learned basic college survival skills like how to cook, how to pick a roommate, how to interact with his professors, and how to apply for a much-needed part-time job, D’Orio writes. What’s more, the sandwiches the CAMP office handed out each morning kept him from starving and helped him stretch his $3-a-day food budget a little further, D’Orio notes. In fact, Jerry is so grateful for the help he received from CAMP, which operates in 15 states and Puerto Rico, that he wants to pay it forward, D’Orio writes. He’s working towards a master’s degree, so he can become a high-school counselor; meanwhile, his sisters, Fabiola and Julia, motivated by their brother’s success, hope to follow in his footsteps, D’Orio concludes.

It’s an inspiring story.


Yet while earning a degree is undoubtedly worthwhile and can open doors to a good job and improve upward mobility for many minority students from low-income families, like the Gomez-Delgados, it’s not the great equalizer people think it is. Why? Because White college grads already have a giant financial head start, Adam Harris explains in an Atlantic article that blows up the bootstrapping myth to which Americans are so enamored:

“White Americans with a college degree are on average three times as wealthy as black Americans with the same credential, and in families whose head of the household is employed, white families have 10 times the wealth of black ones,” Harris notes.

The disparity between white households and Hispanic ones isn’t much better, according to the Pew Research Center, which estimates that the former have eight times as many riches as the latter.

The truth is, we still live in a highly unequal society. Blacks and Latinos start out with less and are far more likely to be weighed down by student debt, which hobbles their ability to build wealth, according to a study recently published in the journal Children and Youth Services Review.

Until Americans own up to that fact and take concerted steps to remedy it, white college grads will do just fine with their parents’ money, while Black and Latino grads fall behind, Harris concludes.

Compiled and written by Gabriela Montell, UnidosUS Communications Manager

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