Recently, I had lunch with a friend and his wife. They were on their way to a high school graduation event that included a member of their family.
That made me think of how things have changed for the Latino community as it has become more and more the rule rather than the exception for the families to have their children graduate. It also appears that the new generation is making graduation from high school and even college a more normal expectation.
I remember how happy I was to finish my studies at Horace Mann Junior High School in North Denver in part because this was the first school I had attended from beginning to end. Also, not only had I experienced academic success there, but I had participated in other rewarding activities such as basketball and baseball
The uniqueness of my experience came from being a child of a recent migrant worker family that for the first time stayed put and allowed us to be part of a school community for the duration of a learning cycle. This was not to be the case the following year at North High School as its tall walls and dark hallways closed in on me and I barely lasted the year.
The decision to go into the military saved me from being part of dropout statistics that many years later I studied and analyzed as an aspect of our research in educational attainment. The last 30 or so years of the 20th Century was full of stories about the disproportionate dropout rate for minorities and in particular for Latinos.
At the turn of the 21st Century the Latino Millennials began making a major statement in this regard and are continuing to change the American narrative on Latino education. To begin with, the Latino drop out rate was cut in half from 28 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2012.
While this is still double the White student rate, the gap is closing rapidly every year. Interestingly enough, Latinos have now passed Whites in the percentage of college enrollments.
The Pew Foundation Study on Latino Student college enrollment has found that between 2000 and 2012 Latino enrollment in college has increased from 49 percent to 69 percent. White student college enrollment during the same period has dropped from 71 percent to 67 percent.
Some of this significant change can be attributed to the Great Recession that hit the Latino population areas harder in terms of finding work. More importantly, compared to 74 percent for all Americans, 88 percent of Latino families with children 16 years old or older see a college degree as very necessary to get ahead.
Despite the shortcomings documented in the Pew Study, it is clear that Latino students are on the move and their progress in this century cannot be denied. It seems that in this case, the scars associated with the battles for civil rights, the Vietnam War of which they have no memory and the discrimination and pejorative nature of second-class citizenship has not been part of their experience to the extent that it affects the trust in institutions.
The ongoing educational attainment of Latinos in this century is one testimonial that clearly indicates that the community itself is gradually taking its proper place in the relationship with the institutions that serve us all beginning with education. It also indicates that assimilation to life in this country is a two-way street where Latinos are becoming as American as America becomes colored with the richness of the Latino experience.