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Ask Dr. Lynch: Higher Ed and the Hispanic Community

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is a department chair and an associate professor of education at Langston University. He has researched topics related to educational policy, school leadership and education reform, particularly in the urban learning environment, and he is interested in developing collaborative enterprises that move the field of education forward. Visit his Web site for more information. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Johnson S. asks:

Dr. Lynch, I am a high school social studies teacher in Florida. Recently, I read a research study that concluded that the U.S. higher education system needs the Hispanic community in order to survive and grow in the future. Since most of the article was written in scholarly prose, I wasn't quite sure what they meant. Can you elaborate on why they may have come to this conclusion?


Johnson, I am familiar with this theory, and I will attempt to shed some light on the subject. The face of higher education is rapidly evolving as more lower-income and middle-class young people find ways to obtain a college degree or technical training. The Hispanic population in the U.S. is no exception, as the number of college applicants and enrollees increases every year. While these strides benefit this specific group of students, everyone stands to benefit from Hispanic higher education success.

The Numbers

The U.S. Census reports that the estimated Hispanic population in the nation is 52 million – making residents of Hispanic origin the largest minority in the country. In fact, one of every six Americans is Hispanic. That number is expected to rise to over 132 million by 2050, and Hispanics will then represent 30 percent of the U.S. population. Children with Hispanic roots make up 23 percent of the age-17-and-under demographic, making future higher-education legislation critical for this growing and thriving minority group.

The Issues

Young people of Hispanic origin face specific challenges when it comes to higher education. Many prospective students are first-generation Americans, or even undocumented residents, and they do not have the first-hand experience or guidance from parents regarding the college experience in the U.S.

Like many other ethnic groups, Hispanic youth face financial difficulty when trying to determine if college is a possibility. Many young Hispanics may feel overwhelmed by the social and financial pressure associated with college attendance. While higher-education initiatives are changing to address these issues, only 13 percent of the Hispanic population over the age of 25 had a bachelor’s degree or higher in the 2010 Census.

Federal Initiative

The Obama administration recognizes the rapid growth of the Hispanic community, specifically as it impacts higher education. The administration has put several pieces of legislation into motion, including the DREAM Act. First introduced in the U.S. Senate in August 2001, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act was designed to reward children in good standing who came to the country illegally. Temporary residency for a six-year time frame is granted to young people who seek out higher education. They have an option for obtaining permanent residency after completion of a bachelor’s or higher degree.

The bill went through several iterations before President Obama announced in June 2012 that his administration would stop deporting undocumented immigrants meeting DREAM Act criteria. While this legislation applies to more than Hispanic immigrants, they are the group that most stands to benefit from its enactment. With no fear of deportation, Hispanic youth with higher-education aspirations are free to pursue them and work toward a better individual and collective future.

What’s Ahead?

Increasing higher education opportunities for Hispanics has obvious positive benefits for the demographic itself, but the influence will be felt even further. Think of it as a ripple effect, where the Hispanic community represents the initial splash, and other ethnic groups also feel the impact. The Obama Administration has made known its goals to make the U.S. the leader in college degrees earned in proportion to population. In order for this goal to be met, Hispanics (specifically those of Latino descent) will need to earn 3.3 million degrees between now and 2020.

The economic success of geographic areas, specifically urban areas, is directly affected by the number of college graduates that study and stay there. In Texas, this is an especially poignant point: A one-point college-graduate rate increase can result in $1.5 billion more in annual economic activity for cities like San Antonio. Without the help of Hispanic youth, these numbers are difficult, even impossible, to achieve.

Legislation like the DREAM Act is just the start of changing the culture of higher education to be more welcoming to Hispanic youth. Individual colleges and universities must also step up and offer academic and financial aid programs with specific Hispanic needs in mind. The future achievements of higher education in the U.S. are dependent upon the inclusion and success of Hispanic students, and the same is true of a stable economic climate. The sooner federal and state initiatives, along with colleges and universities, embrace these inevitabilities, the better.


About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.

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