The face of higher education is rapidly evolving as more middle- to low-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 increase every year. While these strides benefit this specific group of students, everyone stands to benefit from Hispanic higher education success.
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 a Hispanic. That number is expected to rise to more than 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.
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 do not have the first-hand experience or guidance from parents regarding the college experience in the U.S.
Like all 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 and are in need of the right guidance. 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.
The Obama administration recognizes the rapid growth of the Hispanic community, specifically as it impacts higher education, and 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 that came to the country illegally. Temporary residency is granted for a six-year time frame for young people that seek out higher educational pursuits with an option for permanent residency after completion of a bachelor’s degree or beyond.
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 stands to benefit the most 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.
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 all other ethnic groups feel the impact as well.
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 states like Texas, this is an especially poignant point where 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, if 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.
Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Department Chair and an Associate Professor of Education at Langston University. He has focused on researching topics related to educational policy, school leadership and education reform, particularly in the urban learning environment. Please visit his website at www.drmattlynch.com.