Thursday, March 06, 2008

California's economy needs more college-educated Latinos

This is the tip of the iceberg, I sense. -Angela

February 27, 2007 - By Martin Carnoy, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

California faces a major economic crisis: a shortage of four-year college graduates…

The state stands to produce too few graduates to fuel its cutting-edge service economy, mainly because not enough Latinos attend and complete college.

In 2005-2006, one-half the students in California's public schools were Latinos, but Latinos earned only about 15 percent of the 150,000 bachelor's degrees awarded by all California colleges that year. As the student population of California becomes increasingly Latino, these numbers bode badly for the state's economy.

The problem will not be easy to resolve. Many Latino students start out behind in kindergarten and never catch up. By the time they reach middle and high school, many bright Latino students are counseled by poorly trained school officials into low-level courses which are not in the academic track. Without family members who are savvy in navigating middle and high school choices, most Latino students never fulfill minimum course requirements for college. Many also attend high schools that don't offer the honors and advanced placement courses now needed to attend the University of California.

Many dedicated teachers and administrators have motivated Latino and other disadvantaged students academically and have led them through this complex maze to a college education. But they can't do it all. To achieve the massive increase in Latino graduates needed by the economy, state and federal action is needed.

State Schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell's P-16 Council has recommended steps that could help Latinos (and African-Americans) do better in school. But almost all will take a long time to produce results. For example, expanding free, high-quality early childhood education could jump-start Latino students in elementary school and, in 15 years, produce more college students. Similarly, pushing primary and secondary schools to do better could continue to raise student achievement, and eventually should produce better prepared Latino students to enter college. This, too, will take quite a while.

Much more emphasis has to be put on policies that would increase Latinos' college attendance and graduation over the next five to 10 years. For example, California middle and high schools should have financial incentives to identify potential college-bound Latino and African-American students and help them along.

College counseling in California high schools has to be strengthened, so that counseling staffs can encourage minority students to choose college prep courses and pursue funding opportunities for college. As many private schools have known for years, good counseling and college placement courses produce much greater results per dollar spent than just trying to raise test scores.

Next year, a new administration in Washington must pass tax credits for college tuition, increase the Pell Grant program aimed at low-income students and make the Pell Grant application process much simpler. This could help Latino families offset some of the rising costs of higher education. The state can do more, too. State universities should be rewarded for identifying potential lower-income minority applicants in high school. Colleges should also get financial help for providing remedial courses. If colleges can do this for athletes, they should be able to do the same for students with academic potential.

There are private, non-profit models for achieving success with young, minority, first-generation college students. One of these, First Graduate, is a San Francisco program that identifies students in middle school and mentors them through high school into college, helping them also find financing. Another is San Jose's National Hispanic University, which has its own pre-university program to help guide young Latinos into college. Yet, such programs are small. They are good models but cannot do the job on a large scale. The bottom line is that if government does not step up to the plate, California won't have the educated labor force it needs in the decades to come.

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