A Latino Talent Pipeline

With Latinos as the largest minority population in the U.S.---and a more influential segment of the American workforce---we must ensure that Latino youth are prepared for professional success.

Latinos are the fastest growing minority and comprise 15 percent of the U.S. population, yet have the lowest educational attainment. 18 percent of Latinos drop out of high school, the highest rate of any group, and only 13 percent have a college degree. Fueled by immigration and higher birth rates, Latinos are projected to comprise nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050. A recent report indicates that the number of Latino undergraduate students will rise by 45 percent over the next six years. It is a national imperative that we ensure that these students have the tools to succeed, achieve their full potential, and contribute as productive and knowledgeable citizens of our society---anything less represents a risk to our collective future as a nation.

However, this reality represents more than simply a cultural shift inasmuch as it coincides with our move to a knowledge-based economy. According to a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 63 percent of jobs will require a college degree in the next decade compared to 59 percent in 2008 and 28 percent in 1973. Of these new jobs, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent, nearly twice the rate of the U.S. economy. Although STEM currently only comprises five percent of the workforce, scientific innovation has produced approximately half of all U.S. economic growth in the last 50 years---but our winning streak is in jeopardy. In 2006, out of 26 developed countries, the U.S. ranked 22nd in math and 19th in science in middle school test scores. In an age where jobs can be outsourced anywhere with internet connection and where American children compete against students in China and India, higher education is more necessary than ever before to succeed.

There is no doubt that investment is needed to impact all students. However, considering the significant change in demographics and persisting education gaps, we must focus on the Latino community to make a substantive impact. We need to shift our educational approach and invest in the formation of pipeline initiatives that give Latino youth a competitive education from pre-college to career. It is about leveling the playing field for a large segment of underserved youth. While funding continues to be a barrier on college access, we cannot rely merely on scholarship programs to support students. Scholarships are essential to enhancing Latino college retention, persistence, and ultimately graduation, but they cannot achieve these goals alone. While there are many important organizations that strive to help Latino students achieve a college degree, the Hispanic College Fund (HCF) is the only national organization focused on STEM and business with a pipeline approach to develop workforce-ready Latinos.

The Hispanic College Fund was founded in 1993 as a scholarship-providing organization for Latino students in STEM and business, but has since developed a unique pipeline that tracks and supports students from pre-college to college to post-graduate success. Launching the pipeline is the Hispanic Youth Institute, a national pre-college program that educates and motivates high school students to overcome real and perceived barriers to college access. We have expanded the program to eight communities nationwide and have served over 3,700 students since 2004. The HCF scholarship program acts as the pathway to help Latino students enroll in and complete college. We have awarded nearly $15 million in scholarship monies to more than 5,400 students. Completing the pipeline is the Hispanic Professionals Institute, an intensive professional development program that prepares college students for the transition to careers. In addition, HCF is a partner of NASA’s Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology (MUST) Project, which is the only NASA scholarship program serving underrepresented and underserved youth. HCF has awarded $3 million in scholarships to nearly 300 NASA MUST students.

Despite our accomplishments, there is still a significant need for investment in the pipeline in order to help many more students achieve their potential. We know that the key to Latino student success is the creation of a supportive social network that follows these students throughout their educational careers and beyond. Thus, the main challenge we face is reaching even more students without losing the qualities that have made our existing programs successful. One often unrecognized quality of those Latino students that traverse the HCF pipeline is their commitment to give back to their communities and society at large. We are optimistic about a future where our students perpetuate a college-going culture among their peers; a future in which developing the next generation of Hispanic professionals is no longer just HCF’s mission---it’s their mission, too.

Dr. Carlos E. Santiago is the CEO of the Hispanic College Fund.