Student Life

Obstacles to Hispanic Higher Education

By Lauren Bayne Anderson

While some 98 percent of Hispanic high school students say they’d like to attend college, according to a new study, only 25 percent of Hispanics are currently enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.

There are many reasons for the low numbers. But one of the main factors is the responsibilities many Hispanic students say they must take on to help support their families.

At the College Preparation symposium last year, activists and students said the environment in which many Hispanics grow up in is simply not nurturing and fails to promote higher education as a viable option. Often Hispanic students are asked to take on family responsibilities that may hinder their educational progress, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

“I was 16 years old when my father had a heart attack that pronounced him disabled and so I had to drop out of school to become the sole provider,” said Norma Rojas at the symposium, said Diverse Issues. “Now, at 27, I am not the traditional college student, but I am beginning my college career.”

Many students echoed Roja’s situation, with similar stories of their own. In a Washington Post article, Diana Anaya, an honor roll student at Wheaton High School in Maryland, said she should have graduated last year. But, because she single-handedly supports her younger sister, she fell behind. Anaya said she works to pay rent, buy food and, when they can, send money to their family in El Salvador. She told the Washington Post that on a typical day, she works cleaning a library until midnight and then is at school before 7:30 a.m.

Hispanic students say they also have few role models in their communities to help them navigate the college application and financial aid processes. Many said they had to find their own ways into college. And some give up their dreams of higher education when jobs offering enticing salaries are available to them.

The study shows that 62 percent of Hispanics report that neither of their parents went to college and that they are more likely to learn about higher education opportunities through non-personal advertising such as direct mail or billboards, according to Diverse Issues.

Steven Galvan, the fourth of seven children, followed his grandfather’s footsteps, enlisting in the military as a route to college, reports Diverse Issues.

“There are numerous jobs in Texas, especially in the automobile industries, and they suck people in by paying $12 an hour without having to be certified, and people think it’s a lot of money,” Galvan told Diverse Issues. “But my grandfather told me that with education you only go up, and it can never be taken from you, and so I took his advice.”

U.S. Rep. Hilda L. Solis, D-Calif., told Diverse Issues that the effort to boost Hispanic college enrollment should start as early as the preschool years. She says college-prep programs like Upward Bound and other TRIO programs should be expanded and schools should play a larger role in nurturing and steering Hispanic students toward college.

Information compiled from Diverse Issues in Higher Education and the Washington Post.

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