Latinos are underrepresented in higher education

MICHELLE GORE / AGGIE

The role that race plays in learning

I’m a first-generation college student, and this spring I will finally graduate from Davis. While it certainly hasn’t been an easy road to get where I am, it has been a memorable journey. Against all the odds that I’ve had to overcome in my life, I’ve never been closer to achieving this lifelong dream my parents envisioned for me.  

My parents immigrated to the U.S. over 25 years ago in order to provide a better lifestyle for me and my brother and sister. I owe everything that I have in life to the sacrifices my parents made. Thanks to them, I have countless more opportunities than they had growing up.

My mom grew up in Mexico in the ‘80s during a time when things were different. Even though my mom begged my grandpa, she wasn’t allowed to continue her education because it was deeply rooted in society that women back then didn’t need to go to school.

Because my mom was denied her access to higher education, she made sure to try to instill within her children the value of a four-year degree. My mom is by far the biggest role model in my life. She showed me that, against all odds, anyone can beat the system. She inspires me. I remember when I was in high school, my mom obtained her GED: She took night classes while juggling the duties of a mom and wife and working in the mornings.

When I look back on old memories that I have with family members, my parents, uncles, aunts and cousins all said the same thing to me: “Stay in school and go to college.” From a young age, I felt like going to school was my entire purpose.

Yet there are institutional barriers in place that greatly limit the odds of someone like me graduating. Even though the high school dropout rate has considerably dropped over time, Hispanics still have the highest dropout rate among blacks, whites and Asians, according to the Pew Research Center.

There are a number of factors that contribute to this phenomenon. For one, Hispanics and children of immigrants tend be poorer. There’s a variety of statistics that show the same trend: students who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds struggle academically versus their more affluent counterparts.

When I was in high school, my parents couldn’t afford to hire an SAT tutor or enroll me in Study Smarter programs. I had to buy an SAT book and study on my own. I didn’t have any tutors to help me with math or science homework.

There are students who don’t have the necessary resources to help them succeed in the classroom because of a lack of funds. To a certain extent, parents’ income and education affect whether a student will go to college.

I went to school with students whose parents gave them everything they needed to succeed. I was jealous because I didn’t have those same resources. Nonetheless, I still managed to thrive in school through my own hard work.

A college degree opens the door to the middle class; a college degree holds power. The difference in income between high school graduates and college graduates is staggering. A college graduate will make $1 million more over their lifetime versus someone with a high school degree. The advantages and benefits that come with a college degree are significant.

Yet as of 2014, only 15 percent of Hispanics between the ages of 25 and 29 have a bachelor’s degree. Moreover, Hispanics are least likely to earn a bachelor’s degree among whites, blacks and Asians. In particular, this is because Hispanics are less likely than other ethnic groups to enroll in a four-year college. Hispanics, more than any other race, enroll in community college or two-year schools instead.

The rising cost of education prevents students from wanting to go to college. Student debt is higher than credit card debt in the U.S. For that reason, so many students are exploring other alternatives, such as community college, with the intent to transfer to a public university later on.

Hispanics have always been at a disadvantage when it comes to higher education. Language barriers in the classroom greatly limit our vocabulary. I grew up speaking Spanish at home while speaking English at school. As such, my diction was much different than my peers’. During my time at school I felt like I always had to play catch up because my other classmates were way ahead of me in other subjects.

The barriers that stand in the way of Hispanics are threatening — yet they are surmountable. I’m an example of such. My classmates and other Hispanics at four-year universities are also examples that we can succeed. Hard work pays off. Educational equity is the goal for the future.

 

Written by: Alejandro Lara — amlara@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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