When I was part of the Metropolitan State University(MSU) administrative community, I had to be especially aware of our enrollment trends because we were very dependent on them to finance much of our developing infrastructure and innovations necessary to serve our student body. A good economy tended to lower enrollment or its growth and a bad one benefited the institution because more students stayed in school.
In the 1990’s our enrollment began to shift toward a larger Latino student presence and we began to seriously consider going for the minimum 25 percent enrollment from that population, a goal that if successfully reached would changed our association with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) to full membership. That in turn would allow the MSU access to federal funds under Title V of the Higher Education Act, a set aside for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI), and other funds designated to help higher education institutions serve Latinos.
Furthermore, the Pew Research Center is following the educational progress of Latinos, among others, very closely. Its research indicates that the “Educational attainment of Latinos has been changing rapidly in recent years, reflecting the group’s growth in the nation’s public K-12 schools and colleges.”
During the latter part of the 20th Century much was made of the Latino dropout and graduation rates. It was common to hear about how almost half of students from this community left high school and how so few went to college.
Although there were credible reasons for the lack of performance, positive change began to come and accelerated as the country approached the 21st Century. Then, between 2000 and 2014 the high school dropout rate was reduced from 32 percent to 12 percent and continues to drop.
According Pew, 69 percent of Latino “high school graduates in the class of 2012 enrolled in college that fall, two percentage points higher that the rate (67 percent) among their white counterparts.”
To be sure, there are still major challenges for Latino young men and women attending higher education in America. Among them is the relatively few graduating from college and universities with a 4-year degree (15 percent). One reason is that half of Latinos attend community colleges.
The other is that these students tend to work and study at the same time. The good thing about working while going to college however is that Latinos have accrued half the student loan debt as other groups.
A question to be asked is, to what can we attribute this period of educational change? For me, the obvious answer is the energy and “ganas” brought by Latino immigrants during the same period.
Let us look at the numbers. In 1970 the Latino community’s 9.6 million formed 5 percent of the country’s population. By 1980 there were 14.6 million and by 1990 22.4 million and more diverse.
The great Latino immigration waves continued to change the demographic landscape to 35.3 million by 2000 and 50 million by 2010. The current Latino population is pushing 60 million.
More than anything else, issues of history, language and identity have plagued Latinos that have suffered a history of oppression in America. It is the immigrant with a fresh concept of self that has provided the foundation for change.