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Last week, Melissa Patrino, former aide to Congressman Mike Thompson, gathered a group of Hispanic parents and their children at Napa’s Puertas Abiertas to hear a bilingual presentation on higher education by Ramon Salceda, director of Talent Search at Napa Valley College.

This past weekend, more than 1,500 educators, officials, corporate leaders and students gathered in Denver for the annual conference of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Their focus: increasing investment in higher education for the Hispanic/Latino population as critical to our nation’s future role as a global leader.

As America’s population demographics shift, increasing the numbers of Hispanics entering and graduating from college is essential for the nation’s competitiveness.

The U.S. was once the world leader in the number of young people with college degrees; today it is ranked 10th. Gaston Caperton, a former two-term governor of West Virginia and recent president of the College Board President of the College Board, observes, “Our nation will not become No. 1 again in college completion unless we commit ourselves to giving Latino students the support they need to achieve their full potential.”

Today, 51 percent of California’s K-12 students are Latina or Latino. In 2012, the number of Hispanic students enrolling in college surpassed those of their Anglo peers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor also projects that between 2010 and 2020, 74 percent of new workers will be Latina or Latino.

The Pew Charitable Trust concludes that their increasing enrollments clearly demonstrate the high value Latinos place on higher education. Nonetheless, while their enrollment rates grew from 13 percent in 1972 to 32 percent in 2010, they are less likely to complete college. Research suggests this is because most are the first in their families to attend college, confront significant financial challenges due to their low socioeconomic status, and have had less access to high quality schools.

However, USC professor Darnell Cole writes, “Although students’ background and institutional and motivational characteristics are useful predictors of (success), the quality of their college experiences appears to be the most significant toward influencing minority students’ academic performance.”

This is why the public and private sectors are collaborating with campuses and organizations like HACU to increase the numbers of Hispanic/Latino students who move in, move through and move on from higher education. As a Ford executive reminded HACU conference participants, “Education plays a critical role in preparing this nation’s workforce.”

Napa Valley College is among 370 colleges and universities designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic Serving Institution, as its enrollments exceed 25 percent Hispanic/Latino students. In 2011, NVC received a $3.8 million grant to increase the number of students studying in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, whether toward certificates, associate degrees, or transferring to four-year campuses.

John Engler, president of Business Roundtable and former governor of Michigan, notes that one of America’s richest sources of employment and economic growth will be jobs that require skills in STEM areas. However, while Hispanics constitute 15 percent of the U.S. workforce, they are only 8 percent of the STEM workforce.

Oscar DeHaro, NVC vice president for student services, says that while the grant increases the college’s ability to help Hispanic/Latino students succeed, all students will benefit from improved programs. José Hernández, assistant dean and HSI STEM project director, points out that the grant enables the college to upgrade its curriculum, technology and services, such as a summer bridge program to enhance the skills of incoming Napa County students.

DeHaro and Hernandez agree the grant will empower Napa to become an even bigger player in the global economy, in addition to its world class winery and tourism industries.

Santa Rosa Junior College also recently achieved HSI status and was one of only 11 California colleges to receive a Department of Education grant in 2014. Catherine Wilson was among three deans who wrote the $2.65 million proposal, which will support the college’s efforts to increase student success through a variety of initiatives.

Wilson said, “When the email arrived saying we received the grant, I screamed so loud that people came running to see what was wrong.”

Sacramento State University President Alexander Gonzalez, the son of Mexican immigrants and a first-generation college student, said, “The pathway to college is the road to the American Dream.”

Increasing the success of Hispanic/Latino students is not a Hispanic/Latino issue, it’s an American issue. Education is not a zero sum game with winners and losers. The better education one of us gets, the better off we all are.

Tom Brown is a St. Helena resident who served as a dean at Saint Mary’s College of California for 27 years. He currently is a consultant and speaker at colleges and universities that are seeking to keep more of the students they enroll. Send comments, questions or suggestions for future columns to:


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