College-going gap for Latinos

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CPS plans in the coming weeks to release data on college-going rates
among its graduates, an annual announcement that highlights the
district’s success in getting more students into higher education.

But if findings for the Class of 2008 are similar to those for previous
years, one troubling trend will hold true: Latino students will lag far
behind their classmates. In 2007, just 40 percent of Latino graduates
had enrolled in college by fall, compared to 50 percent of black
students, 66 percent of white students and 76 percent of Asians.

CPS plans in the coming weeks to release data on college-going rates among its graduates, an annual announcement that highlights the district’s success in getting more students into higher education.

But if findings for the Class of 2008 are similar to those for previous years, one troubling trend will hold true: Latino students will lag far behind their classmates. In 2007, just 40 percent of Latino graduates had enrolled in college by fall, compared to 50 percent of black students, 66 percent of white students and 76 percent of Asians.

CPS is part of a national trend that one expert calls an “impending crisis.” Patricia Gandara, a director at the Civil Rights Project at the University of California-Los Angeles, recently released a book on the issue, The Latino Education Crisis.

Nationally, only 9 percent of young Latino adults have a college education, a figure that has stagnated since the 1970s, while every other racial and ethnic group has seen increases. Gandara says the lack of college education is an especially critical issue as the population of Latinos in the United States grows. And the college-going gap for Latinos is contributing to a national decline in the college graduation rate, she adds.

Gandara spoke on an Education Writers Association panel earlier this month. She was joined on the panel by Sarita Brown, president of the newly formed group Excelencia in Education, and Diana Natalicio, the president of the University of Texas-El Paso.

To reverse the trend, colleges must realize that Latino college students typically work and go to school part time, Gandara says. Second- and third-generation Latinos, as well as immigrant, are struggling to get college degrees. “This population is not incorporating and integrating [into society] as other immigrant populations have,” Gandara said. “Today, the same individuals who in the past would have gotten jobs and sent their children to college are having a problem getting a foothold in the economy.”

That said, there are some shining examples of programs and colleges that are making strides in helping Latinos graduate, profiled by Brown’s group.

Brown said high school counselors and colleges need to be more deliberate in making sure that students get information to help them navigate into and through college. “These are first-generation college-goers, and they are not going to get the savvy advice that goes on in middle-class households around dining room tables,” she said.

Brown, who worked in the Clinton Administration, also is interested in making sure that the Obama Administration makes college more affordable for Latinos. The administration’s proposed federal education budget for 2010 includes several provisions to increase affordability for all students, including an increase in funding for student loans from $1 billion to $6 billion, an increase in the maximum Pell grant from $4,731 to $5,500 and creation of a $2.5 billion incentive fund to support state efforts to improve college completion rates.