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By Juleyka Lantigua
Latinos_college_3Too few Latinos graduated from college this year, and every year. While Latinos make up 13.5 percent of the U.S. population, we account for only 7 percent of the bachelor’s degrees, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. Based on reading similar accounts and on years of mentoring young people and helping my siblings graduate college, I can tell you that it comes down to three essential things.

One: Most of Latinos attend overcrowded and under-funded public schools, which often leads to little personal attention from a guidance counselor, let alone individual help with applications and essays. As a result, only one in four college-age Latinos is actually in college. That’s rather low compared to 42 percent of whites and 60 percent of Asians in the age same group.

Two: We face cultural expectations that undermine the idea of attending a four-year school away from home. In many Latino homes, young adults (whether high school graduates or not) are expected to work to support the extended family, both here and back in their country of origin. And many young women are essentially only allowed to leave home when they do so on the arm of a husband. Of those of us enrolled, 49 percent, or 1 in 2, are the first in our families to attend college, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Three: We must adjust to an environment that is often hostile toward ethnic minorities, where we are often the sole brown face in a class. This last one cannot be emphasized enough. Arriving on a typical college campus in the fall can be akin to landing on an alien planet, where the natives inspect and scrutinize you, reminding you daily that you do not belong.

This year, my brother was among the joyful graduates. Though he was always a focused student, getting him across the stage took the combined efforts of two parents, three siblings and the Florida State University C.A.R.E. program, which is tailored to support Black, Latino, Asian students like him.

Similarly, my sister and I attended Skidmore College under the auspices of H.E.O.P., another program geared to recruiting and retaining talented, underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students. Through a coordinated and on-going effort, which includes a pre-college summer enhancement program, academic guidance and social exchanges, such programs provide the right combination of support that promotes a successful college experience. At my alma mater, H.E.O.P. achieves an average graduation rate of 94 percent, which is considerably higher than the 80 percent for the general population.

Colleges must step up their roles in recruiting and retaining more of us if they are to meet the growing needs of a society where a bachelor degree is the first step in maintaining middle class status. If colleges do that, more Latino families will have the opportunity to celebrate as their children toss their caps in the air.

"Juleyka Lantigua is a journalist and editor whose work appears in national newspapers and magazines. For more info visit:"

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