This Hispanic Heritage Month, We Must Continue to Support Our Students
October 13, 2017
This year Hispanic Heritage Month comes at a tense time in the United States and a pivotal moment for the Hispanic community. In the last year alone, we’ve seen ICE arrests rise 43 percent, a presidential pardon of Sheriff Arpaio who ran the cruel and inhumane outdoor jail for Hispanic people, Mexicans accused of being rapists and murderers, a federal repeal of DACA protections, neglect of a humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico, 28,000 non-criminal arrests by ICE, and the targeting of pregnant women and children in sanctuary cities. The list goes on and shows no signs of slowing or stopping under the current administration. Exacerbated by all of this is the staggering relative education opportunity and success gaps for Hispanic students.
In 1974, 14 percent of white students had completed four years of college, while only 5.4 percent of black and 5.5 percent of Hispanic students had – establishing a gap of 8.5 percent between white and Hispanic students. In 2015, 41 years since, four-year completion for white students has risen to 36.2 percent, while 22.5 percent of black and 15.5 percent of Hispanic students did the same – widening the gap to 20.7 percentage points. Some of this may be attributed to the funneling of Hispanic students into two-year public colleges, and some is attributable to the inability of four-year institutions to guide students to graduation.
Compare disaggregated graduation rates at four-year Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) with those at non-HSIs. HSIs are defined as institutions where at least 25 percent of undergraduate students are Hispanic. Despite enrolling students with lower SAT scores, usually considered to be a predictor of college success, HSIs graduate higher percentages of Hispanic students and have begun to close the gap between Hispanic graduation rates and the graduation rates of their white counterparts.
In 2017, amid shifts in the United States population demographics and considering the rapid growth in Hispanic college enrollment, all schools should strive to be “Hispanic Serving Institutions,” not just according to the statutory, technical definition. At all institutions of higher education, school staff and leadership should take substantial, visible steps to create a campus environment that supports its Hispanic students and their long-term achievement.
A study published by Ethnic and Racial Studies found that middle school Latino boys with higher awareness of the Arizona SB 1070 law – more appropriately, but less affectionately known as the “show me your papers” law – struggled with classroom behavior, more so than those with less knowledge. Simple awareness of a discriminatory policy was enough to affect classroom outcomes in Hispanic boys. One can only imagine the extent to which our current political atmosphere will affect Hispanic students of all ages, especially with the looming threat of deportation for friends and family. The repeal of DACA only amplifies this further, as students themselves have now become targets and college students are often hyperaware of these issues.
In order to foster an effective and supportive learning environment, school leadership must not be afraid to speak out against racial injustice. Declaring opposition to or condemning acts of racism or white supremacy is not taking a political stance, but actively choosing to defend students for whom they are responsible. If not for moral reasons, institution of higher education leaders and educators should discuss issues of racial discrimination because doing so is proven to drive gains in college satisfaction, improved perception of campus racial climate, intellectual engagement, sense of community, and consequently graduation rates for students of color.
College leaders should do more though than speak out on issues of racial injustice in order to evidence a meaningful commitment to Hispanic student attainment. Students of color who attend schools with predominantly white staff and faculty feel tokenized and isolated, yielding significant drops in completion and graduation rates. Hiring educators that better reflect the student population and the general population will undoubtedly yield positive results in student performance and satisfaction.
This year has been an unprecedented period of strain in race relations and in education policy alike. However, these issues must not totally eclipse the significant gains Hispanic students and families have made thus far. Hispanic and Latinx is now the fastest-growing college enrollment demographic in the United States. High school dropout rates have reached a new low while the share of Hispanic high school graduates enrolling in college is higher than ever before (#ThanksObama). These achievements should be celebrated as important progress, but it must be understood that Hispanic students still have a long way to go in closing the achievement gap and succeeding to higher education.
It is critical, now more than ever, that we protect the progress that we’ve made and continue to open doors for our Hispanic and immigrant youth. It all begins with supporting our children and making very clear that all students are welcome and capable, regardless of race, skin color, zip code, income, or country of origin.
Democrats for Education Reform—New York
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