Hispanic teens, parents setting sights on college
Friday, October 31, 2008 - Juan Mora, a construction worker, lives with regret. If only he had listened to his parents and focused on his education in Mexico, then maybe his pay would not be dictated by the rise and fall of his hammer in an unstable economy.
The high school-educated craftsman has high hopes that his four kids will live better than he has some day. With the right education, Mora says, his kids could land comfortably among the ranks of the middle class.
“For a long time, I’ve wanted my kids to prepare for college to have a better life,” said Mora of Doraville. “I want them to be somebody.”
Officials with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund want more Hispanic parents like Mora to set their sights on college for their kids. They point to the explosive growth in the nation’s Hispanic population as proof that the sons and daughters of maids and landscapers could become the CEOs of tomorrow.
In Georgia, the Hispanic population increased by 70 percent to 740,843 people in seven years.
If Hispanic parents don’t raise expectations for their kids, they could be sentencing them to a future of low wage-jobs and unemployment, said Maria Naranjo, program director for Hispanic Scholarship Fund Southeast.
“Hispanic people are the largest minority group in the country, yet we are the least educated,” Naranjo said. “A lot of Hispanics don’t feel that going to college is even an option for their kids.”
According to U.S. Census estimates, about 9 percent of Hispanics have bachelor’s degrees, compared to nearly 19 percent of whites and about 13 percent of blacks.
A lack of understanding about college requirements, limited finances and citizenship issues can become barriers to college for Hispanics. Many parents don’t know how to help their kids apply to college or secure financial aid. In the University System of Georgia, only 3.3 percent of students were Hispanic in fall 2007, Campaigns like “Steps for Success” hosted by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund at Meadowcreek High School recently, are educating Hispanics about the college process. By 2010, the scholarship fund aims to double the rate of Hispanics attaining bachelor’s degrees nationwide, Naranjo said.
The group made inroads at Meadowcreek in Norcross. More than 900 Hispanic families of Gwinnett County public middle and high school students attended workshops on financial aid, applying to colleges and picking careers. Approximately 11,000 people were invited to the event.
Yustin Nambo, 17, a senior at Central Gwinnett High sat in a cramped classroom intrigued by a lecture on how to get “free money” for college.
“No one has ever graduated from high school from our family,” Nambo said. “My mother tells me to take this opportunity to make something of myself.”
Georgia’s Hispanic students have proven that they are ready for college rigor. “Considering that demographic is growing rapidly, we are still seeing tremendous gains pretty much across the board on tests,”said Dana Tofig, spokesperson for the state Department of Education.
More Hispanics are taking Advanced Placement courses that could earn them college credits. Their scores on state standardized tests and college board exams also improved. The graduation rate for Hispanics is climbing, too. It jumped from 55.3 percent in 2005 to 65.5 percent in 2008, said Dana Tofig, spokesperson for the state Department of Education.
Hispanic students at the state’s largest school system also are advancing. In Gwinnett Schools, more than 35,000 students — about 22 percent of the population — is Latino. The Gwinnett system’s Hispanics scored an average of 50 points higher on the SAT in 2008 than their Latino peers nationwide.
At Cobb County Schools, Hispanics have seen similar gains. The district partners with local universities to encourage Hispanics to consider college. It also participates with Junior Achievement’s Job Shadow & College Pipeline program.
Some parents of college-bound seniors, however, are finding that their decision to come to the United States illegally is hurting their kids. Without social security numbers, their kids cannot get financial aid , reap the savings of in-state tuition in Georgia or receive the HOPE Scholarship. The cost of college can be prohibitive for them.
About 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year.
“If you enter the country illegally, there is no way to change your status,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. “These children came with their parents. Now there is this huge obstacle in allowing them to go to college.”
But Ira Mehlman, a spokesperson for The Federation of American Immigration Reform, say illegals have their parents to blame if they can’t apply for financial aid. “In any situation in which parents violate the law, there are inevitably consequences for their kids,” he said.
The Hispanic Scholarship Fund awarded more than $1 million in aid to Georgia’s Hispanics last school year. But their dollars only go to citizens.
The Atlanta-based Goizueta Foundation, however does not require proof of citizenship. It donated between $6 million to $8 million in higher education grants last school year. Private universities may also overlook citizenship status when doling out scholarships to talented students. Public colleges in 10 states offer cost-savings in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. In September, however, the California Court of Appeals ruled that the practice was “unconstitutional” because the same opportunity was not given to students outside of the state. Mehlman of FAIR says the ruling could have a ripple effect.
That could mean fewer options for Daniel, a 13-year-old Creekland Middle student who asked that his last name be withheld to protect his identity as an undocumented child. The math whiz who earns straight As wants to go to Harvard but he knows that his parents, a nanny and a janitor, won’t be able to afford an Ivy League education with three kids. “I want to be an engineer,” Daniel said. “All of us should have the equal opportunity to go to college.”
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