Fullfiling Our Own Prophecy

“None of my counselors mentioned college when I was in high school, which made the thought of higher education seem even more unattainable,” recalled Teresa Bravo, who migrated from Sonora, Mexico to Yuma, Arizona at nine years old. “I wasn’t aware of financial aid, scholarships, the importance of SAT scores, or the format of an essay. Being the first in my family to graduate from high school or junior high for that matter, meant my parents simply weren’t equipped to provide me with guidance. And I needed guidance.”

Teresa was not alone.

In the spring of 2009, The Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF), in partnership with the National Research Center for College and University Admissions (NRCCUA), found Latino students are most likely to need guidance in pursuing higher education. NRCCUA surveyed more than 10,000 high school students across America and learned that Latino high school students were least likely to have a parent who graduated from high school or went to college, yet Latinos look up to and emulate their parents more than any other segment of the population. When asked about the cost to attend a “major state university,” Latino high school students were the most likely by far to over-estimate it. When Latino students were asked the “total dollar amount of financial aid” (including grants, scholarships, waivers, loans and work study) they were the most likely to under-estimate the support available and more than 35 percent said that they didn’t expect to receive any financial aid at all. Latino students were also the least likely to be engaged in discussions surrounding college or education and most likely to get information from advertising. Finally, among African American, Latino and Asian students, Latinos were most likely to feel discouraged from going to college and least likely to feel encouraged to go to college by those around them including teachers, guidance counselors, parents and peers.

The last finding is the most troublesome. As Latinos, we are not provided with a vision for college and the achievement gap creates an opportunity gap in the workforce. In other words, we are fulfilling someone else’s prophecy. The alarmingly low 55 percent graduation rate for Latino high school students is evidence that in addition to resources, Latinos need a vision for education. America desperately needs a more educated workforce to compete globally. With an 8 to 1 birth to death ratio for Latinos (whites have a 1.4 to 1 ratio according to the Census), investing in our community should be a priority for America’s future well-being. But it’s not.

In light of the research findings, HHF identified a Latino student’s greater need for guidance counselors. However, in California, the ratio of students vs. guidance counselors is more than 900 to 1 and the numbers are even more dramatic in heavily-populated Latino regions. Recently, HHF created the miMentors program to provide support to guidance counselors in meeting the needs of Latino students who are more likely to be overlooked and underserved. Through a relationship with the American School Counselors Association (ASCA), HHF has identified, trained and placed their vetted network of Latino leaders (alumni of our prestigious 11-year Youth Awards program) and deployed them to run weekly charlas for dozens of Latino high school students in addressing social, cultural and academic issues they will face in high school. In addition, the charlas will have a theme to prepare the students for life including the obvious college prep but also financial planning, healthy lifestyles, environmental activism, and others. After each semester, the miMentors effort will be measured and evaluated through surveys of the participating high school students, their teachers and parents to gauge the effectiveness. Grades, attendance and class participation will also be part of the evaluation. The HHF Mentors, who are college students and mostly majoring in education, will receive educational grants for participating in the program.

Thanks to AT&T, mi Mentors is currently being piloted in five regions and will be expanded in September if other companies who are trying to move the needle on the Latino graduation rate are willing to invest in a sustainable and measurable program, programs which provide an “education of the heart” in the words of Cesar Chavez.

“By providing more individualized support to students, we can work to close the achievement gap,” underscored Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), who is the Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Task Force on Education and Workforce Development. “A mentor support system will help to inspire students to see the connection between a strong education and future success, and empower them to reach their full potential.”

As Latinos, we are worth the investment. Getting back to Teresa Bravo, she not only overcame her obstacles by graduating from the University of Arizona but was recently elected the President of the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association (CHSA). And we can count on her serving as a mentor to other Latinos.

Jose Antonio Tijerino is the president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. Visit www.HispanicHeritage.org for more information.