Calif. Schools Lead the Way Preparing Next Generation of Workers: Latinos

Calif. Schools Lead the Way Preparing Next Generation of Workers: Latinos

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In 2011, for the first time, more Latino students than white students applied for admission to California State University’s 23 campuses. The numbers reflect not only the state’s growing Latino population, but also the impact of early education programs that are paying off with more Latinos graduating from high school and pursuing higher education.

Out of 665,000 applicants to the California State University (CSU) system, Latino students made up 33.3 percent of prospective freshmen and transfer students, while 31.2 percent of the applications came from white students.

About 18.3 percent of the CSU applicants are Asian, and 6.4 percent are African American, according to a CSU report.

The increase in the number of Latino applicants offers a reality check at a time when low-income and immigrant families are often blamed for California’s high-school dropout numbers. Latino students are college-bound in California, preparing for professional careers in education and science, in finance and in politics.

Some students from low income families say education is the key to lift them and their families out of poverty, and give back to their communities.

The increases are nationwide as well: During the 2009–2010 school year, college enrollment among Latinos increased 24 percent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

As the nation’s Latino population grows, becoming one-third of the country’s total population by 2050, it’s critical that the next generation of workers be well educated as they will be filling the jobs and paying state and federal taxes as the baby boom generation moves into retirement.

“The aging white population of California has to see their future wrapped up in the educational success of kids of color – Latinos and Asians,” said Teresa Carrillo, chair of Latina/Latino studies at San Francisco State University, part of the CSU system.

“Given the demographics, that is the future of the working professionals of California.

“We have to get past our divisions,” she said. “Our economy and our economic prosperity depend on greater and greater education among the workforce.

“I am happy about the higher numbers of Latinos applying to college, but I don’t want people misled into thinking we are making great strides and becoming more equitable; there is a lot of room for improvement,” Carrillo said.

Certainly, California college campuses reflect the growing Latino population in the state. More than 37 percent of the state’s population is Hispanic, according to the 2010 Census.

Last year, 28 percent of the students enrolled at California State University campuses were Latino; 34 percent were white. In addition, the California State University system is relatively affordable, with tuition around $6,000 per year and potentially within the grasp of more students.

But there is more to it than that.

Educators say the numbers are also evidence that early education efforts and programs to increase parent involvement in their children’s schooling are showing results.

California’s diverse campuses are the result of a concerted effort in the state over the last 25 years to keep minority, immigrant and low-income students, beginning in kindergarten, on the path to college.

California State University system also produces the majority of the state’s teachers and prepares them to teach a curriculum that addresses the needs of low-income, minority and underserved students.

“There has been a real and deliberate effort on the part of CSU to reach into various communities and to show that college is achievable,” said Erik Fallis, a spokesman for the California State University system.

“We have worked with faith groups trying to get the message out; we have worked with organizations that educate parents; we work closely with the K–12 system to begin preparing students for college and to see which skills they need to strengthen,” said Fallis.

In addition, programs such as PIQE – Parent Institute for Quality Education – help parents understand the public school system so that they can help their children get the best education. During a nine-week course, parents learn how to monitor their child’s progress in school, understand and navigate the school system, and make sure their child stays on the path to college.

In the PIQE program, parents learn how to check that homework is done, read a report card and understand how a grade point average is calculated. PIQE provides parents with information on options for financial aid and college scholarships. The courses are taught in 16 languages.

California State University Chancellor Charles Reed recently pledged $3.4 million to expand PIQE’s parent program in schools.

“We help parents put their children on track so they have all the opportunities possible to think about college,” said PIQE spokeswoman Alma El Issa.

Since the program started in 1987, PIQE has served more than 500,000 parents and more than 1.5 million students. Manyhave graduated from community colleges, state colleges and universities.

Among those students is Thalia, 20, a junior at the University of California, Berkeley, who is pursuing a double major in political economics and Asian-American studies. She dreams of becoming a doctor, eager to help her family, and give back to her community.

Thalia’s mother, who is originally from Mexico, attended several PIQE parent courses and took community college courses to improve her own English. Thalia said her mother often took her along to the classes, helping Thalia become familiar with and comfortable in the college environment.

Because of the PIQE program, Thalia said her family was aware of high school graduation requirements by the time she was in middle school. It was always assumed she would go to college. She graduated from high school with a perfect grade point average – and fierce determination.

“My family and community are what keep me going and succeeding in school,” she said.

Thalia is undocumented, something she didn’t know until just before her senior year in high school. Her family has little money and paying for college has been difficult.

“Being undocumented was never an issue at Berkeley; they never said anything,” Thalia said. “There was no problem applying. The problem is paying.” Tuition at Berkeley is $12,192 a year, significantly more than at the CSU campuses or community colleges.

So far, Thalia has covered her costs by winning scholarships, including some from PIQE, and by taking some of her general education requirement courses at Berkeley City College. Her friends and family have helped her with fundraisers.

“We’ve always been a very low-income family and education is the key to take us out of poverty. The only way to help my family in the future is by me having a college degree and a career that will allow me to give back to them.

“After my undergraduate career I plan on enrolling in a post baccalaureate premedical program and eventually apply to medical schools and later specialize in endocrinology. I would be able to give back to my community as a doctor by helping patients that have diabetes ‒ specifically Latinos because there is a higher percentage of type 2 diabetes in that ethnic group.

Thalia said she would like to do medical work in California’s central valley because there of the huge Latino population in the area.

“I want an education not just for me, but for my family and to help generations to come as well,” she said.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have great supporters who have helped me, and seeing how much they believe in me makes me want to be able to help other students whenever I can. In order to do so, however, I need a college degree.

“Those goals are what get me up in the morning to go to school,” said Thalia.