Educating A Growing Community
Many call on two-year institutions to lead the way in educating both native- and foreign-born Hispanics
By Kristina Lane
exican President Vicente Fox traveled to Washington earlier this month to meet with President Bush and to address the U.S. Congress about his immigration proposals, which include a request that the United States provide temporary work visas for Mexicans and amnesty for undocumented Mexican immigrants. Should the United States and Mexico agree on such a policy, the higher education community would almost certainly feel its impact.
Historically, a large portion of the Hispanic population has relied on community colleges to offer a chance to get a foot in the door of higher education, largely because community colleges are affordable, accessible and flexible enough to meet the needs of Hispanic students.
According to a September 2000 report by former President Clinton’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, about half of all Hispanic and Latino students enrolled in undergraduate education are attending community colleges. In comparison, the majority of White and African American students are enrolled in four-year institutions.
And recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that the number of Hispanic students seeking enrollment in community colleges will surge within the next 10 to 15 years.
Numbers Paint a Very Big Picture
Numbers released by the Census Bureau last spring point not only to a swelling Hispanic population, but also to a Hispanic population that is young and therefore likelier to attend college.
The Hispanic population accounted for 40 percent of the total population growth in the United States between 1990-2000, jumping from 22 million to 35 million.
In 2000, 36 percent of Hispanics were 18 or younger, compared with 24 percent of non-Hispanic Whites. The median age of the Hispanic population is 26, while the median age of the entire population is 35 years.
For some states, the Hispanic population was responsible for more than half of all population growth: 80 percent in California and 66 percent in New York. That translates to 10.9 million Hispanics in California and 2.9 million in New York.
Roberto Ramirez, a survey statistician with the ethnic and Hispanic branch of the Census Bureau, says the number of Hispanics in community colleges will continue to grow, especially because of the large population of Hispanics currently enrolled in primary and secondary school.
By 2015, Hispanic undergraduate enrollment will increase by 1 million throughout the country, accounting for 15.4 percent of the nation’s campus population, according to a report by Anthony Carnevale, vice president for public leadership at the Educational Testing Service.
The report says that during the next 20 years, California, New York, Texas, Florida and Arizona will experience an increase of 1.4 million students, and almost half of this growth will be Hispanic.
At California community colleges alone, the number of Hispanic students grew by nearly 200,000 between 1991 and 2000.
California Schools Ahead
of the Curve
California has more community colleges than any other state —118, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. For that state, the Census numbers are critical.
Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif., already has launched initiatives aimed at dealing with the expansion.
Golden West, with a Hispanic student population of 16 percent, hosts a Chicano-Latino conference each year to recruit Hispanic high school students who might not otherwise be aware of the opportunities at a community college.
Carmen Sandoval, a senior staff assistant for the assessment center at Golden West, says 800 students participated in the program this year, its sixth. The conference informs students about what it takes to gain admission, the details of financial aid and what life is like for community college students.
Dr. Kenneth Yglesias, president of Golden West, says another part of the school’s Hispanic outreach effort involves legislation that improves Hispanics’ ability to afford higher education.
Some school administrators have been working with California state legislators to muster support for legislation that would allow illegal immigrants who are long-term state residents to pay in-state tuition rates for higher education. Although it passed both houses of the state legislature last year, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed the measure.
But Yglesias says he hopes that this time around, Davis will follow the lead of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who signed similar legislation June 17 for his state.
“This is a major issue for us because … we have at least 200-300 (high school students) that graduate every year but are undocumented,” Yglesias says. “Many are very good students and we are forever trying to figure out how to get them to be able to enroll and … afford it.”
A Gap that Needs Minding and Mending
Improving access to higher education for Hispanics is something community colleges must assume on behalf of those students caught in an achievement gap that is swallowing their potential success, educators say.
Although the information-driven economy is fueling a universal demand for a more educated work force, an achievement gap persists for Hispanics. Since community colleges provide a majority of remedial classes in higher education, Hispanic students stuck in the gap are likely to end up there.
High dropout rates among Hispanics are partly to blame for the gap. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 37 percent of all Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds did not complete secondary schooling in 1999, and these dropout rates have been consistent since 1985. In 1997, the Census Bureau reported that among Hispanic immigrants 25 years and older, only 47 percent had a high school education, compared with 84 percent of U.S. natives.
Also contributing to the gap are language barriers and a lack of financial resources.
But Raul Gonzalez, an education policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza, says there is an additional, often overlooked factor adding to the gap: low expectations of Hispanic students. Gonzalez recalled discussions with several high school interns at La Raza.
“What did the counselor say to them when they applied to UT-Austin or Stanford? Each time they were told they shouldn’t try because they wouldn’t get in; kids are getting a lot of negative messages about college,” Gonzalez says.
The bar needs to be raised on expectations, and academic rigors must be increased for Hispanic students, he says, adding that community colleges can be instrumental in effecting that change in the future.
Other policy analysts, community college officials and educators agree with Gonzalez that community colleges will take the lead in closing the achievement gap for Hispanics and improving their standing in society.
But this consensus begs the question: What do these schools need to do in the future to secure this goal?
Getting the Population Boom
One of the first things schools must do to meet the demands of this growing Hispanic population is to collapse the language barrier, Yglesias says.
Yglesias says Golden West is spending about $2 million to hire faculty and staff who can help Spanish-speaking students overcome language barriers. There needs to be not only an understanding of English by Hispanic students, but also an adequate number of school officials who can communicate with these students in their native tongue, he says.
He says the school is trying to create a community in which Hispanic students feel comfortable and have people to whom they feel they can relate.
“Many Hispanic students are suspicious of schools because they were 98 percent lily White,” Yglesias says. “(They) did not feel that comfortable and went somewhere with a bigger Hispanic demographic.”
Dr. Bill Wenrich, chancellor of the Dallas Community College District, says more attention needs to be given to differing language needs among Hispanic students. Some need both intensive English immersion and remedial education, while others just want to learn English for a job.
Dallas has gone to great lengths to improve its language services, including offering a $500 salary bonus to staff and faculty fluent in a language other than English. The college district is also printing more catalogues and other publications in Spanish and broadcasting a Spanish television show called “Dale Ganas,” or “Go For It.”
Dr. Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at the Teachers College of Columbia University in New York City, says it is critical for schools to remember that their Hispanic populations are heterogeneous, and to tailor their programs accordingly.
“(There are) differences between Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans. Hispanics are not a homogenous group, neither linguistically nor culturally,” Bailey says.
Dr. Antonio Pérez, president of the Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York, agrees with Bailey and says that in the past, the majority of Hispanics at his school were Puerto Ricans. But the Dominican population has since overrun the Puerto Rican population. And now the number of Mexican students is expected to outstrip the Dominican student population, Pérez says.
He says community colleges on the East Coast did not anticipate this wave of Mexican and Central American students, many of whom are not legal residents of the United States.
Aside from making adjustments for the linguistic and cultural differences among these different groups, Pérez says the residency issue will be the biggest problem for community colleges to solve — especially those in the East.
Dr. Fena Garza, the director of student counseling for the Houston Community College District in Texas, says community colleges need to reach out more to families of Hispanic students. By educating the parents and making them feel welcome, community colleges can help parents show their children a clearer path toward higher education, Garza says.
Above all else, community colleges must focus on meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student body.
“We need to change the paradigm and mindset. Essentially we have 200 years of teacher-centered teaching. We need to switch around to more student-centered teaching,” says Sharon Saez, a research specialist at ETS.
And some warn that if community colleges do not step up to the plate, they are not only doing a disservice to Hispanic students, but to all of society.
“It’s a great opportunity to show what we in the community college can do,” Wenrich says. “The success of the American work force will be determined by extending the franchise, so they (Hispanic students) have the language, the skills. If we can’t do that we are going to leave America short. If we can do that, it will be a shining moment for community colleges.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com