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Failure to educate a fast-growing segment of the U.S. work force — Latino males — may put the country at a global economic disadvantage, experts say.

MIchigan Technological University graduate Andy Puble, who now works as an engineer for Caterpillar, worked 40 hours a week while taking a full course load.

One expert calls it “a silent crisis.” Latino males are more likely to drop out of high school and are more likely not to fi nish college. While the number of Latino males enrolled in colleges and universities has increased in the last 20 years, it has not kept pace with that of other ethnic groups. In addition, the gap between the number of male and female Hispanics on the nation’s campuses has widened. Although this last fact is true for all racial and ethnic groups, it is particularly acute among Hispanics.

Of the 1.3 million Latinos on campus, 57 percent are female, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. While Hispanic males make up about 8 percent of the U.S. population, they account for only about 4 percent of the nation’s college and university enrollment.

Experts say the number of Americans of Hispanic descent is growing at a rate four times faster than that of the rest of the nation. Hispanics make up 15 percent of the U.S. population, a fi gure that is expected to double in 40 years. Hispanics also tend to be younger and are more likely to enter the labor force than the rest of the population in general.

So the paucity of Hispanic males in college, they say, could ultimately have dire economic implications for the nation and for its competitiveness in areas like technology transfer, engineering, medicine and applied science.

“One of every three people entering the work force is Hispanic,” says Dr. John Moder, senior vice president for the Hispanic Association for Colleges and Universities, a San Antonio-based organization that represents more than 400 institutions of higher learning focused on Hispanic education. “The projection is that by 2020 that number will be one of two. By coming from a group that is underrepresented in higher education, we’re going to have a hard time finding the workers you need for an educated work force. We’re going to have a hard time competing in the global marketplace. The jobs of the present, and even more so the jobs of the future, are the kinds of jobs that require higher education. That’s precisely the area where we need to be developing human talent.”

Multiple Barriers

A variety of social, cultural and fi nancial barriers appear to have contributed to the low numbers of Hispanic males in postsecondary education.

“Some of the social pressures are related to machismo,” says Dr. Luis Ponjuan, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Florida and co-author of an article published earlier this year in the Journal of Hispanic Higher Education titled “The Vanishing Latino Male in Higher Education.” He says many Latino males are expected to get jobs once they come of age to help meet family obligations. As a college student, Ponjuan says he worked three jobs to help his parents.

His experience mirrors that of Andy Puble, a recent electrical engineering graduate of Michigan Technological University. Puble says although he had a scholarship and some school loans, he had to help his parents pay their bills because his father couldn’t fi nd steady work and his mother could not work because she did not speak English. To meet these obligations, he worked 40 hours a week while taking a full course load at Michigan Tech.

“During my last two semesters at Michigan Tech, the (fi nancial) necessity was so big that I was working fi ve jobs and taking 18 credits at the same time,” says Puble, who works as an engineer with Caterpillar. When he wasn’t taking classes during the day, he worked at one of his jobs, so he “would start studying at midnight and end at [5 a.m.].”

Experts say other barriers that derail many Hispanic men from going to college begin as early as elementary school. Even if they excel academically at a young age, peers may tag them as “acting White,” a phenomenon also common among many urban-dwelling African-Americans, Ponjuan says.

He added that in elementary, middle and high school, “Latino and African-American males are seven times more likely to be tagged with the at-risk label and to have the ADD [attention defi cit disorder] tag. So they end up getting tracked into different educational pathways” that ultimately lead them away from college.

Says Dr. Victor Saenz, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Texas at Austin, who co-authored the journal article with Ponjuan: “We’re losing a big chunk of kids during high school years. By this point, they have accumulated a whole bunch of negative experiences. So by the time they get to high school, they are not interested in fi nishing high school or going to college.”

The lure of gang life, stigma of being labeled a “college boy” and the lack of outreach to Latino males all contribute to the dearth of Hispanic males enrolling in college, says Adalberto Ortiz-Silva, an admissions counselor and Hispanic recruitment coordinator at Delaware State University, a historically Black institution with a Hispanic enrollment of about 90 students, about 35 of whom are male.

In mostly rural southern Delaware, he says, he faces another problem when trying to recruit students: a lack of proper immigration papers and fear. “Some of the parents might not be able to apply for fi nancial aid,” he says.

“Some of it is mistrust. I went to one school where kids joked that I was from immigration. It was a joke but there was some fear behind that joke.”

Experts also say there is a lack of Hispanic role models, particularly for Hispanic males, at the K-12 level.

“The trend that we’re seeing is that several factors cause Latino males not to become engaged in school,” says Veronica Rivera, a staff attorney who specializes in education policy issues at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “One is not having role models or anyone they can turn to to discuss goals or aspirations. There’s a lack of engagement between Latino males and attending high schools.”

By the time Latinos like Puble get to college, they don’t see many students who look like them.

“We are under-represented in schools,” Puble says. “Most of the time I was the only Hispanic in the room. That was a little bit diffi cult in the beginning because I didn’t get a lot of support from other Hispanic males or females that got an engineering degree.”

Intensive Outreach

Experts say the nation must do better in trying to address the crisis of the education of Latino males. “

If we’re not going to be addressing the needs of those students, our country will face an economic demise,” Ponjuan says. “We have to be inclusive in creating pathways to post-secondary education. In order for America to improve its standing for economic development, we must increase the talent pool. Up until now, that talent pool has not included Latinos.” To be sure, much of the discussion about Hispanic education has steered clear of gender, with some experts declaring college access an issue that affects Latinos in general, not just Hispanic males.

“Up until this point there has not been a national platform to talk about Latino males,” Ponjuan says. “It is a silent crisis in our community.”

Still, a growing number of organizations around the country are taking steps to stem the tide of Hispanic males falling through the cracks of the educational pipeline. In San Diego, a group of community activists is targeting Hispanic males in middle and high schools.

“It targets students in the middle 80 percent that get lost in the shuffl e,” Saenz says. “The older students now serve as role models. They are using the same script as gangs in which older students serve as role models to their younger peers and ultimately results in getting them to college. They are also partnering with colleges and universities.”

In Texas, he says, the Fathers Active in Communities and Education program gets parents to take a keener interest in their children’s education.

Many colleges and universities are also taking steps to reach out to young Hispanics before they reach college age. For instance, Delaware State is publishing more promotional literature in Spanish. Ortiz-Silva attends more special events at churches and cultural centers, where he passes out this literature and invites prospective students to come visit the campus. He works with community leaders to get their buy-in and also plans to attend more national Hispanic college fairs.

In Texas, the College Connection program helps Hispanic parents and high school students fill out college-admission forms and educate them about the admissions process and fi nancial aid. The program has been replicated throughout Texas. El Paso Community College in Texas has an aggressive recruitment and retention program that includes working with students from the time they enter high school and guiding them on the process of entering a four-year university after they complete community college.

In addition, the College Board, which prepares and distributes standardized examinations like the SAT, has convened forums to discuss this issue and to try to work with experts to formulate solutions.

“Across the board we are seeing more dialogue with school districts and community colleges so that” Hispanic students can transition in successfully, Rivera says.

“You certainly have school districts and colleges supporting efforts at their level,” adds Saenz. “It has to come from the community, the churches. It doesn’t always have to come from schools.”

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