National Hispanic Heritage Month holds significant value for millions of Americans each year. It is a time to celebrate our culture as well as our contributions and influence on the United States. I take part in this occasion, proudly reflecting on my own heritage and the sacrifices my parents made for me. The world has changed dramatically since I was a first-generation college student. Great progress has been made, but as I continue to survey the current state of higher education, I see that there is still work to be done.
As the son of Cuban immigrant parents, I worried about how to pay for tuition. I needed to find people who could support me because the process was unfamiliar to my family, having not gone through college themselves. I attended a community college and later transferred to the University of La Verne, where I now serve as chair of the board of trustees. Yet, when I look at our growing student population, it is like looking in the mirror.
Studies show us that underserved students lack the resources, support and financial means to reach their goals. According to The Campaign for College Opportunity’s recent report, “The State of Higher Education in California: The Latino Report,” 7 out of 10 Latino high school graduates in the country are enrolled in college, yet they still have very low college attainment compared to other ethnic groups. What do we need to do in order for these kids to reach commencement?
In the last two decades, the Latino student population at the University of La Verne has experienced a tremendous increase, exceeding 40 percent of the student population. The Latino population is projected to become the single largest “race or ethnic group” this year — making up 39 percent of California’s population, according to a report on shifting demographics in Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2014-15 budget proposal.
It is critical that from their very first days on our campus we work to assist and support these students and their families. At La Verne, there are a growing number of initiatives in place addressing the needs of our students and I am proud to see the progress we are making:
- Master’s Academy — Provides college readiness workshops to underserved students by hosting six Saturday workshops (held twice annually) to learn how to be ready for college.
- REACH Summer Business Camp — Offered to help high school students learn more about college life, the College of Business and Public Management serves students from Southern California school districts for a three-week intensive college and business experience.
- Latino Education & Access Development (LEAD) Conference — A day-long conference designed to encourage college attendance through workshops and a resource fair. Hosted during National Hispanic Heritage Month, guest speakers serve on panels and share insights for success.
- First Generation Student Success Program (FGSSP) — Developed to address cultural conditions involved with first-generation students, parents are provided a forum to address parental issues while students are tutored on transitioning into college, applying for financial aid and on enhancing their learning skills. Faculty, staff and alumni serve as personal mentors.
Bringing the vision to reality is a constant act of progress and has taken countless hours of work by many people, but it is also the most rewarding. The degrees earned by these students all have a multiplier effect and have the potential to make higher education a part of their family’s lives for generations to come.
As the president and CEO of a multimillion-dollar food processing and distribution company, I know that the work we are doing today contributes to a better tomorrow for all of us. The power behind these underserved student populations (Latino and all minorities) and the potential they have to change this world for the better is a valuable resource worthy of investment of our budget dollars and our full attention. The future of our communities and our nation is dependent upon our work today with these students.
Luis Faura is the president of C&F Foods, Inc. and board of trustees chair at the University of La Verne.