Building the Pipeline

On the eve of the 2010 Census, the issue of education among Hispanics and its impact in our society is more pressing than ever. Hispanics are already the largest and fastest growing minority in our country and these Census results will only exacerbate these numbers. Hispanics are responsible for more than half the growth of the US population in the last ten years and this growth is largely explained by Hispanics being born in the US, not by recent arrivals. Fueled by a vibrant second and third generation, Hispanics are almost a decade younger than the majority and according to the Census Bureau, by 2050 one in every three US residents will be Hispanic.

These demographic trends have direct implications on the future of the educational system in the US. Unfortunately, some of these implications are pretty alarming. According to the November 2008 issue of Progress of Education Reform funded by a grant from the GE Foundation, “from 1990 to 2006, the number of Hispanic students in the US public schools nearly doubled, accounting for 60% of the total growth in public school enrollment. Approximately 10 million Hispanic students are enrolled in the public K-12 system, comprising nearly one-fifth of public schools students in the United Sates.” The Census Bureau estimates that the Hispanic school age population will increase 166% from 11 million in 2006 to 28 million in 2050.

Motivated by these statistics, the GE Hispanic Forum has identified education as one of its primary strategic imperatives. Like in many other businesses, the Hispanic Forum’s goal to increase the Hispanic talent pipeline and leadership penetration within GE could not be achieved without a strong pipeline of educated young Hispanics. The GE Hispanic Forum benefits from the importance GE places on diversity. While job creation where it makes sense for our business is a key way that GE provides community value, the GEHF is particularly concerned with the sustainability of societal systems that impact Hispanic populations, in particular in the area of education.

At GE we believe diversity is good business. As a global company, GE’s mission is to have talent that reflects the communities it serves and with whom it does business. GE embraces and celebrates diversity as it fuels its innovation and growth in particular in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The GE Hispanic Forum is an employee driven affinity organization founded fourteen years ago by a group of visionaries and pioneers from the Technical Leadership Program (TLP) at the GE Transportation and Electrical Distribution & Control (ED&C) businesses. The Forum’s mission is to facilitate GE’s efforts to attract, retain and develop Hispanic talent within the GE businesses. Today, its close to 3,300 members are organized in 27 local hubs across the country which coordinated almost 1,000 events last year offering Hispanic employees a myriad of opportunities for growth and development.

The issues affecting young Hispanics today in the field of education have a direct impact on the long-term goals of GE and the Hispanic Forum. Through grants offered by the GE Foundation, GE promotes research efforts to better understand the trends and drivers underlying these issues. According to the GE-funded 2008 study Minorities in Higher Education, Hispanics are at the bottom end of the scale in the percentage of the population who has at least an associate degree. This study also concluded that Hispanics showed the lowest rate of high school completion at 68%, despite progress made over the last two decades. In addition, college enrollment rates for Hispanics are the lowest among all groups and showed the smallest improvement in the last two decades, from 18% to 25%. On the positive side, in the last decade, minorities outpaced whites in the enrollment growth with Hispanics leading in terms of both growth rates and absolute numbers. Unfortunately, in terms of college persistence, defined as the percentage of first time freshmen that remained enrolled or completed their certificates over a 3-year period after enrolling, there was an overall slight decline, with Hispanics showing the sharpest drop.

At the GE Hispanic Forum, strengthening our relationship with organizations involved in supporting the education of young Hispanics is central to our mission as an affinity group. We believe we are making a difference on these issues through active engagement, volunteerism and partnership with key constituencies. By contributing to scholarships and mentoring progress we aim to provide the resources and expertise young Hispanics so desperately need to succeed to today’s highly competitive world. By working with organizations like Junior Achievement and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the Hispanic Forum hopes that by providing funding to scholarships programs and engaging in mentoring activities, it will help alleviate the abysmal drop out rate among young Hispanics in secondary education and increase the numbers of Hispanics earning college degrees. In addition, through Telemundo’s education campaign El Poder de Saber, we are trying to create awareness among students and their families of the importance of staying in school.

The GE Hispanic Forum has been successful in moving Hispanic talent up the leadership pipeline, with strong year-over-year growth in our pre-Executive band group, minimal attrition at the Executive level,and many stories of how the skills developed and connections made in the Forum have contributed to these employees’ career development and advancement. Most recently, we have put in place a successful Talent Assessment Program that has helped identify high potential Hispanic talent and provide them with the tools and resources to enhance their career development within the organization. We have also increased our efforts to grow our pipeline and attract new Hispanic talent by partnering with GE Staffing and developing deeper connections with professional organizations such as NSHMBA and ALPFA.

The current state of education among young Latinos and the demographic trends we’re witnessing make this issue a national priority that should be tackled both by the public and private sector working jointly to develop and execute programs specifically focused on increasing awareness of the issue and help fund and support initiatives geared to finding solutions before its too late. Targeted funding, innovative solutions and different models should be considered as we all work together on finding solutions that make sense. Jose Rosario and Christine Wedam Rosario from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis conclude in their study funded by a grant from the GE Foundation and featured in the November 2008 issue of Progress of Education Reform, that successful models for Latino students involve reaching out beyond the traditional school centered models to engage both parents and larger communities in education. This seems to indicate that in addition to the private and public sector working together, parents and communities will have to join forces and be part of the solution. The GE Hispanic Forum and its members, urge community leaders to act now and help lead all key stakeholders to design innovative initiatives before millions of Hispanic children run out of time and their limited educational opportunities affect our society as a whole.

By Delia I Garced and Margaret Lazo