How to Increase Latino Representation in Higher Education

C. Pineda HeadshotA few weeks ago, President Barack Obama pushed for a new initiative that would bring together foundations and companies to support young men of color to lift their opportunities for their futures and to help reach their full potential. Titled “My Brother’s Keeper,” this effort would encourage more involvement between the White House and young Latino and Black men by holding productive and educational systems for children and to evaluate which programs help these students continue with their education.  This new initiative is one of many that would help Latino students maintain their involvement with school, but what more can we do to help push our community to advance further in education and bridge the gap between all demographics?

Last month, I attended a conference put together by Teach For America’s Latino Engagement and Partnerships Team titled “Entre Hermanos: A Critical Summit on the State of Latino Men in Education.” This summit spoke on the importance of addressing the need for Latinos, specifically Latino males, to pursue a career in the field of education. As encouraging as it was to see a large group of Latino males eager to make an impact to the community, it saddened me to see the data that revealed a low number of Latinos that work in educational-based careers. Once leaving the summit, I thought to myself, why is there a lack of importance, or encouragement, to pursue higher education within the Latino community? Is it due to family support, financial needs, or is there a deeper reason? 

While there are more Latinos entering classrooms in colleges and universities more than ever before, there are fewer of these students leaving the classrooms and graduating. College acceptance rates for Latinos are high, but retention rates within this group are dangerously low. What can we do to address this issue and tackle it head on?

The importance of higher education needs to be addressed at a younger age. Many families of Latino students aren’t aware of the college application process, the deadlines that are missed, and of the research that it takes to locate financial aid. But this problem isn’t one at the fault of the parents. There seems to be a lack of resources given to Latino families with this information. With less information being distributed to these young Latinos, many grow up unaware of life after high school. Still, there is slow progress, as some politicians and lawmakers are investing in changing these statistics. Leaders like Hillary Clinton know that encouraging Latino parents to help their children better develop their language skills are a great first step to set up the seed of knowledge for college.

There is also a need for role models that children can relate to growing up. Because Latinos are the youngest and fastest growing ethnic minority in the U.S., it is important that there is someone for students to look up to. Sadly, as learned from the Entre Hermanos summit, there is a large absence of Latinos that serve as role models for students, whether it is as a teacher, a coach, an after school club organizer, or even a mentor. Children look up to older figures as their guidance, and pushing for more Latino/a role models in these positions can mean all the difference in continuing the students’ goals and aspirations. 

We also need to change our definition of educational success for these students. Just getting into college isn’t enough anymore. We need to clearly define success in education as not only just graduating college, but with continuing to move forward with their studies, and then giving back to the community. The U.S. Latino population is one of the most influential groups in the nation, with as much voting power to shift the politics in their favor, so politicians should pay attention. And while we should applaud our brown brothers and sisters on achieving such high college acceptance rates, we shouldn’t stop at the entry way. Higher education shouldn’t be seen as an extracurricular activity or an alternative decision; it should be seen as the gateway to open more doors of possibility.

Cristian Pineda is the Editor-in-Chief  for Latino Giant and an assistant for Latinovations. Cristian graduated from George Mason University with a degree in Communication and minors in Film & Media Studies and in Business. He consults for several Latino-based organizations within the Washington, DC metropolitan region providing support and assistance in their social media and digital marketing strategies.