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For Latinos, aspirations far exceed attainment

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

A new study from the Pew Hispanic Center reveals that while most Latino students say a college education is essential for future success, fewer than half of them expect to get a college degree themselves.

This "aspirations gap" is more acute among young Latino immigrants than among those who were born here, the study said. Only 29 percent of immigrant Latinos age 18-25 said they planned to get a bachelor’s degree, compared to 60 percent of the U.S.-born.

Contrary to the stereotype that Latino parents are not invested in their children’s education, the study shows that more than three-quarters push their children to get a college education. However, other factors intervene, especially financial pressure to help support the family and difficulties in learning English.

In fact, among people of all ages, Latinos (88 percent) are more likely to value a college education than the general population (74 percent).

"Latino kids have strong sense of motivation to help the family," said Andrew Fuligni of UCLA, who responded to the study by Mark Hugo Lopez at a seminar sponsored by the Education Writers Association on Latino children and education. "One way to help the family is to do well in school, but it is difficult to make a long term investment when you have short-term needs. This is an economic, not a cultural issue."

Three-fourths of Latinos between the ages of 18 and 25 who stopped going to either high school or college said obligation to family was the major reason. Among the general population between the ages of 25 and 29, 31 percent have attained bachelor’s degrees, compared to just 12 percent of Latinos.

Latino students are the largest consumers of community colleges. The reason is that they must balance work life, academics and family obligations, said Pew’s Richard Fry.

Participants in a series of panels, including some high schools students, said that Latino students do not often get the kind of help they need in school, and that lack of English proficiency imposes a huge barrier. The U.S. is the only advanced country in the world that expects students to become proficient in a new langauge within a year. Nor does the U.S. value bilingualism as an asset.

Several Latino high school students came to the conference and put a face on the the aspiration, reality, and statistics.

"We must work harder and show the strengths we bring to the U.S.," said Deborah Ramos, 21, who is pursuing her GED in Washington, DC’s YouthBuild charter school.

The conference put several issues into an interesting perspective. For instance, Carola Suarez-Orozco of New York University said that teachers’ attitudes about Latino families are often affected by students’ frequent failure to do homework, about which there is a completely different attitude in most Spanish-speaking countries. .

These students are less likely to get help from their parents with homework for a variety of reasons, including lack of Internet access and trouble with English. Plus, "they don’t come from a cultural model in which parents are supposed to help with homework," Suarez-Orozco said.

Lack of an active parental role in their children’s education was cited by 57 percent in the national survey as the main reason Latino students don’t do as well as other groups in school.

The results were based on a bilingual telephone survey of 2,012 Latinos aged 16 and older.

Check out other reports on the conference here and here.

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