Latino Parents Value College More Than Anybody Else

Building on their commitment to learning could help the United States reach its higher education goals.

(Photo: Gwyn Photography/Getty Images)

Feb 26, 2016· 3 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

It’s only four years until the deadline President Barack Obama set for the United States to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. Whether the nation meets that goal could rest on whether it can support the enthusiasm for higher education among Latino families.

Data from a recent Pew Research Center survey reveals that moms and dads of Hispanic children (Hispanic is the term used by Pew and the U.S. Census Bureau) are significantly more likely than either black or white parents to highly value a college degree for their kids. The survey found that 86 percent of Hispanic parents of kids under 18 said it’s extremely important or very important for their children to earn college degrees. In comparison, 79 percent of black parents and 67 percent of white parents said the same.

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According to Pew, Hispanic parents also have the strongest belief that a college degree is essential to becoming part of America’s middle class. A full 49 percent of Hispanic parents believe this, compared with 43 percent of black parents, while only 22 percent of white parents said as much.

The belief that college is a ticket to the middle class may be attributed to the reality that “white adults are more likely than black or Hispanic adults to already be in the middle class or higher, which may account in part for the fact that fewer whites see college as essential,” Pew’s researchers wrote.

However, in an email to TakePart, Yvonne Ruiz, an associate professor of social work at Salem State University in Massachusetts who has worked extensively with Latino families on education issues, wrote that there are cultural issues at play.

“The majority of Latino parents are foreign-born, and a large motivation for immigration is on the opportunities for their children, including academic and financial success. Latino parents come to the U.S. well aware that schooling is essential,” Ruiz wrote.

Antonio R. Flores, president of the San Antonio–based Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, echoed that sentiment. “There is a much higher level of faith in education from Hispanic/Latino parents as well from other low-income parents, such as African Americans,” Flores told TakePart. “They see how significantly life can be changed by a higher-education degree, so they want the best for their children. They are very motivated compared to white parents who are middle class or upper middle class and already have college degrees.”

“White parents may be taking college for granted, but for Hispanic parents, it is a big deal—they are more driven,” he said. “They just want a better life for their children than the one they have.”

The enthusiasm for higher education is also reflected in data from Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project. It found that the number of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college full-time has increased 175 percent since 2000.

While Hispanic parents may value education and college, degree attainment for the group still lags behind. Pew’s researchers found that among adults ages 25 to 29, only 15 percent of Hispanics had earned at least a bachelor’s degree in 2014, compared with 63 percent of Asians, 41 percent of whites, and 22 percent of blacks.

“Many social factors get in the way of academic success,” wrote Ruiz. One big issue is “schools located in areas with less social [and] financial resources that do not provide adequate preparation for higher education.”

To ensure Hispanic students and their parents are well prepared to attend selective four-year institutions, Flores believes the first thing that needs to happen is “to create a much more close, meaningful, and collaborative relationship between K–12 districts with large numbers of Hispanic and Latino students and area colleges and universities.” That would help create a seamless transition from high school to higher education.

One of the disconnects, explained Flores, is that Hispanic parents want their children to get degrees, but they don’t understand how the higher education system works. A closer collaborative relationship between high schools and colleges can help young people when their parents can’t.

“The support has to start early and be done in an intentional way, not when students are in their senior year and completing high school. By then it’s too late,” Flores said. He suggested interventions begin no later than middle school so students and their families start high school well informed about higher education and knowing what classes they’ll need to get on a college preparatory track.

Diversifying the teaching profession so there are more role models for Hispanic children in classrooms can also help. There are fewer “available role models who mirror the cultural values and who can help students and their families navigate the educational system,” wrote Ruiz. Her research has found that along with involving parents early in a child’s education, “schools need to provide relevant cultural material and teachers, staff, and administrators who are culturally aware.”

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“Ultimately, we know that there is a deficit of qualified Hispanic teachers. Twenty-seven percent of the K–12 population is Hispanic, but only 8 percent of teachers are Hispanic, so there is a huge gap there,” said Flores.

He also suggested that state and federal governments target resources to support the enthusiasm for college and to boost the number of Hispanic educators in America’s classrooms. The “private sector should also contribute, because at the end of the day they will benefit the most from more graduates in fields they need. They need to be part of the solution, not just on the receiving end,” Flores said.