Live Webcast: The Game-Changing Stories Behind the Numbers on Latino Education

Educating Latinos: The Game-Changing Stories Behind the Numbers starts today at 6 p.m. Eastern (Click here to read more about the session)

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Powerpoint presentation by Mark Lopez

Background articles by Katherine Leal Unmuth

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Prepárate Conference: Miami Dade College and FIU Emphasize Partnership

Miami Dade College and Florida International University are two of the most successful colleges in the country when it comes to graduating Latino students. A recent study by the group Excelencia in Education, found that in 2009-10 Miami Dade College awarded 5,893 associate degrees to Latinos and FIU awarded 3,918 bachelor’s degrees and 1,014 master’s degrees to Latinos.

The two institutions are working together to build a seamless pipeline for students who earn an associate degree at Miami Dade and then want to move on to earn a bachelor’s degree at FIU. Administrators from the colleges presented at the College Board’s “Prepárate: Educating Latinos for the Future of America” conference in Miami to explain their dual admission program and their work as partners.

Promising Miami Dade College students who are not admitted to FIU outright because of academic or capacity issues are invited into the dual degree program, and about 30 percent of those approached so far have chosen to participate . If they earn an associate degree within three years, they can move on to the university.

About 84 percent of students in the dual admission program require remedial courses.  Their average high school GPA is about 2.8 and their math or verbal SAT scores average around 450 in each area, so they do require further coursework to be prepared for the university.

“The basic promise that the university makes in the letter is we’re not admitting you but if you go to community college and get the two-year degree, we’ll hold a seat for you,” said assistant professor Glenda Musoba.

To encourage the bond, orientation for the participating Miami Dade students is held at FIU. “There’s a lot of buy-in right away for students to feel they’re FIU students,” said Douglas Wartzok, the university’s provost and executive president.  “We really try to build the affinity to FIU as they’re starting as Miami Dade students.”

Students are also issued FIU ID  and library cards, so they can participate in campus activities. That stresses to students that “this is your home as well,” said FIU vice provost Elizabeth Bejar.

They also go through workshops at certain points on topics such as choosing a major with the help of a dual degree bridge advisor.

The program still is young and administrators are closely watching the results. Since 2006, 5,203 students have accepted the offer  to participate and 141 of those participants have graduated from FIU. Most of the students joined the program recently, so long-term data is still needed to gage future success.

Student Debt Discourages Latinos from Enrolling in STEM Programs

The urgent need to increase the number of young people pursuing degrees in STEM areas–science, technology, engineering and math–is a hot topic in education circles. Especially during the current economic slump, having a bachelor’s and graduate degrees in these disciplines can have a better return on investment than other areas of study.

But how can you collect that return, if you can’t even afford to invest in a degree ? A recent report, Reducing Undergraduate Debt to Increase Latina and Latino Participation in STEM Professions, by the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California calls for changes in financial aid policy  that could increase the numbers of Latinos going into STEM careers. The study is the fourth in a series of reports funded by the National Science Foundation as part of an effort to increase Latinos’ access to STEM fields.

“We’ve seen some good news with the number of Latinos completing master’s and doctoral degrees but this critical demographic is still severely underrepresented among all STEM master’s and doctoral degree recipients,” said Lindsey E. Malcom, the report’s co-author.

The study’s authors say that Latino students’ tendency to borrow at high rates for their undergraduate education limits their ability to pursue a graduate education. The researchers found that Latinos graduating with high undergraduate debt when compared with others in their graduating class are 17 percent less likely than graduates with no debt to pursue further higher education within two years. The impact of debt on Latino students’ aspirations appears more severe than on other groups. Researchers say that in comparison, white, Asian or black students with high debt are 5-6 percent less likely to pursue graduate education. In addition, Latinos with low debt are also about 13.8 percent less likely to pursue higher-level degrees.

“For Latino students, who average higher levels of financial need than any other racial-ethnic group, a recurring concern has been that debt aversion, or a reluctance to borrow, constrains college choices and limits access to institutions with higher sticker prices, like privates and highly selective colleges and universities,” the study notes. “This is a particular concern because these same highly selective institutions often have more extensive and wide-ranging academic programs in STEM fields.”

The authors’ recommendations include expanding research assistant and work-study opportunities in STEM areas at colleges and universities serving large Latino enrollments, such as Hispanic serving institutions.

HSI’s that are granted federal Title V STEM funds also must be monitored to make sure they are successful in their efforts to promote Latino students’ success in the disciplines. The funding is partially meant to improve transfer rates from community colleges to four-year universities.

A previous report by the center found that very few Hispanics who hold bachelor’s degrees in STEM career areas had first earned an associate’s degree and then transferred. But the benefits of starting at a community college include lower student debt.

The report’s co-authors also urged the need to grow the federal Pell grant program, keep interest rates steady and disaggregate student loan debt data by race and ethnicity.

When you report on the issue, request data on the number of Latinos enrolled in undergraduate and graduate-level STEM programs from your local colleges and universities. Then ask the institutions if they have any initiatives to increase the numbers of Hispanics enrolled in the programs.

You can also turn to organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering as resources and The National Math and Science Initiative.

Related Links:

“Reducing Undergraduate Debt to Increase Latina and Latino Participation in STEM Professions.” Center for Urban Education.

“Are Hispanics America’s Next Great STEM Innovators?” Forbes. 

“Grant to Promote STEM fields for Hispanic/Latino K-12 students.” Georgia Tech Newsroom and The Goizueta Foundation.

“Increasing Access of Underrepresented Groups to High-Quality, Career-Readying Science, Technology and Mathematics Education.” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. 

Mitt Romney Talks Education with Latino Voters

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is talking about education–just after a recent survey found that it’s a top issue for Latino voters. He addressed the topic Wednesday in an appearance before a meeting of the Latino Coalition at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Romney spoke broadly about education issues, rather than identifying specific challenges for Hispanic students. He declared a “national education emergency” in the speech and said many kids are getting a “Third World education.” He promoted school choice and criticized teachers unions.

“This is the civil-rights issue of our era,” his speech noted. “It’s the greatest challenge of our time.”

But he avoided talking about immigration or the Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants raised in the United States who attend college or join the military. Romney has said previously that he would veto the legislation.

The Atlantic reported that Lucia Allain, an undocumented immigrant and activist, began talking during the speech but was ushered out. “My main point was to ask him: You’re talking about dreams, the American dream, how every student deserves opportunity in this country. Why can’t I continue my dream?”

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Obama leads Romney at 71 percent to 27 percent among Latinos.

Reuters notes that some are wondering if Romney will consider softening his stance on the Dream Act and adopt a proposal from Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio’s proposal would grant visas to young people rather than provide a way to earn citizenship.

Read his speech here.

“¡Ask a Mexican!” Columnist Stresses Importance of Community Colleges in Commencement Speech

Gustavo Arellano is known for his nationally syndicated satirical column ¡Ask a Mexican!, where he answers questions from readers ranging from “Why do Mexican men love their mothers so much?” to “Why do Mexicans have so many names?”

But he delivered a more serious message on Wednesday when he gave the commencement speech at California’s Long Beach City College.

Arellano, the son of Mexican immigrants raised in California, shared with students how he also attended a community college. He graduated from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, back in 1999. He worked full-time to support his family and did not receive any financial aid while attending school.

Following graduation, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at Chapman University and a master’s from UCLA. But he described himself as an “underachiever” in high school:

“I know the story of a perennial underachiever, someone who couldn’t be convinced to give a damn about high school, who was in danger of becoming a statistic like so many of his peers, whose eyes were forever opened to the glories of the studious life by the community college experience: by the generosity of perpetually stressed counselors and teachers who nevertheless made time for clueless students, by peers who had harder paths than him, yet pushed him to bigger and better things,” he said.

He added that he knew many young people enrolled in community colleges who were undocumented immigrants and struggled financially because they couldn’t obtain federal financial aid, yet still were successful academically and went on to universities.

“It’s community college that has historically accepted anyone regardless of your background, a show of social grace much needed in this country,” he wrote. “Community college forces people to become scholars, to grow up quickly, and doesn’t look kindly on laggers.”

Much has been said about the challenges of community colleges. In particular, that their graduation rates are low. A recent study by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that California community colleges have poor transfer rates to four-year universities for Latino and black students.

A recent Excelencia! in Education study found that in California, about 16% of Latino adults ages 25 to 64 had earned an associate degree or higher, compared with 39% of all adults.

But for many Latinos, they are the point of entry into the higher education system, and thus play an essential role in raising college graduation rates.

You can read his speech here.

EWA Teams with College Board, NAHJ for May 31 Webcast on Latino Ed

A special webcast to help journalists understand key issues in Latino education takes place May 31 as part of the College Board’s — Prepárate™: Educating Latinos for the Future of America.

The event is co-hosted by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Education Writers Association.

Join us for

Educating Latinos: The Game-Changing Stories Behind the Numbers

Thursday, May 31, 2012, 6 – 7:30 p.m. Eastern

View the webcast at

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College Scholarship Programs Can Make a Difference for Latinos

The end of the school year is my favorite time to write–not because I’m looking forward to a slow summer, but because so many inspirational stories seem to crop up all at once. As high school graduation closes in, stories about young people overcoming adversity to reach their academic potential are in high demand from editors.

I’ve found several inspirational students to write about over the years through a couple of organizations that are making a difference for many young Latinos and financially challenged young people.

First, the QuestBridge program “matches” low-income students with elite universities to provide a fully paid college education. I once wrote an article about a young man from the Dallas suburbs who was matched with Princeton University. His parents, immigrants from Mexico, had not even completed elementary school.

A second option is the Gates Millennium Scholars program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The organization offers fully paid tuition, in some cases through graduate school, to qualified low-income, minority students. Gates scholar Rodrigo Fernandez, who ranked first in his high school class at Simon Rivera High School in Brownsville, Texas, explained to The Brownsville Herald how the Gates scholarship lifted pressure off him. “The day I got it I was really happy because I knew that now I could focus on my studies without having to worry about everything else, that I could stop worrying about the money and other financial things,” said Fernandez, who will attend the University of Texas at Austin and whose older sister also won the award.

I’m not suggesting that you simply write a straight news piece about someone winning the award. If you delve deeper into their life story, you may find a strong narrative story to tell.

It’s also important to ask who are the counselors who are identifying and guiding students toward applying for these scholarships? The process of writing essays and requesting recommendations can be time-consuming. The difference between students who win these awards and the talented ones who don’t can be due to the quality of advising, and that’s unfortunate.

A few years ago, I presented on a panel at the Education Writers Association conference about “undermatching.” The term refers to how many young minority and low-income students often set their goals too low and are qualified to enroll in more academically rigorous colleges than they actually apply to.

As reporters, we should keep an eye out for schools that are doing a better job of guiding young people toward these opportunities. We should also ask why so many schools are failing to offer that support.

Latinos Fuel ‘Majority Minority’ Birth Milestone

With the announcement last week that white non-Hispanic babies are now officially in the minority, the United States has reached a pivotal tipping point. Demographics are shifting, and the news headlines have made this even more evident to the broader public.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, white babies now make up about 49.6 percent of babies one year old or younger. The data are from April 2010 to July 2011. Latinos account for 26 percent of all births. Many of these children are second-generation Americans born to immigrants.

According to a 2010 report from the Pew Hispanic Center, Hispanic women give birth to an average of 2.4 babies, compared with 1.8 babies for white women. On the front lines of this shift,  where the population is youngest, we should identify and write about early learning programs that are targeting the needs of these young children and their parents.

This news should also prompt journalists to examine more closely the demographic changes in local communities to make the story more relevant to readers. For example, the suburbs outside urban centers once were regarded as “white flight” destinations. But at this point in time, many suburbs have become “majority minority.” You can see this just by getting out and visiting the classroom. How are school districts that have never before dealt with large percentages of minority children coping with this new reality?

In an interview with PBS NewsHour, New York University education professor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco stressed that the education system plays a critical role in ensuring the future success of these young children of color.

“While there are optimistic contours to these numbers, there are also a number of issues that we really need to pause and rethink,” he said. “First is the matter of are we as a society going to be able to transfer the skills, the competencies, the sensibilities to this new generation of Americans to thrive in the 21st century economy and society, and economy and society that is very, very different from what our education system in a way evolved to deal with? And that’s where we’re falling behind.”

Researchers Call Attention to the Educational ‘State of Crisis’ Facing Latino Males

Increasing the number of Latinos earning bachelor’s degrees is a pressing national issue. But within the group, it is Hispanic men who are the least likely to graduate from high school, enroll in college, and graduate from college.

A group based at the University of Texas at Austin called Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success) is trying to bring attention to the plight of these young men.

A new policy brief  on the topic written by two of the group’s co-directors, education professors Victor Sáenz of the University of Texas and Luis Ponjuan of the University of Florida, was released recently by  Perspectivas, Issues in Higher Education Policy and Practice.

The brief notes that in 2010, among 18 to 24-year-old Latino males, about 34.2 percent of Latino males had not completed high school or earned GEDs, compared with 27.1 percent of Latina females. According to 2010 Census data cited in the brief, about 38.4 percent of Latinos earning bachelor’s or associate degrees in 2009 were men.

The researchers say that Hispanic males are in a state of crisis. They outline a number of reasons that men are lagging, gathered in part from interviews conducted in Texas and Florida of Latino male college students, high school, and college administrators and faculty members.

They found that male students’ perceptions of their masculinity makes them reluctant to ask for help or take advantage of services intended to help them become successful. In addition, high schools, colleges, and faculty are not discussing or even aware of the fact that Latino male students in particular are falling behind, according to the research.

They mention several programs that are making a difference with young men:

Fathers Active in Communities and Education: The program in South Texas partners with school districts, higher education, and businesses to create programming including activities, college tours, and family events;

Encuentros Leadership: Based in Northern San Diego County, the program holds a summer leadership academy and career and education conference for Hispanic male students. The group also created a textbook intended to help male students;

XY-Zone: This Communities in Schools programs with sites all over the country works with male students to work through challenges including academics and relationships;

Puente Project: The California-based project works to help students enroll in college and then return to their communities to mentor young people.

You could easily localize this story, and also see if there are any gender-specific initiatives geared at helping young men in your community.

Read the brief here.

Latino Voters Rank Education as a Top Issue

A poll released this week found that Latino voters place improving K-12 education above immigration as a top issue of concern in the upcoming presidential election.

According to the poll by the Federation for Children and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, 58 percent of Latinos agree that “we need to hear more from the presidential candidates on how they will improve education.” In comparison, 49 percent of all voters agreed with the statement.

The majority of Hispanics also agreed that improving education is central to improving the economy.

The organizations that conducted the survey support school choice, and asked many questions about related issues. The survey found 60 percent of Latinos agreed that “giving parents more choices of schools will improve the education system.” It also found that Latinos strongly support higher pay for higher performing teachers.

The poll included 750 likely voters in English and Spanish in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, New Jersey, and New Mexico.

Read the complete results here.