University encourages Hispanic culture

by Tammy Tucker

Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in the United States, but are also the most likely to drop out of high school, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley said in a speech last week.
Encouraging such a large portion of the population to graduate from high school and pursue higher education is essential for a prosperous America, Riley emphasized.
But Hispanic students face many diverse and complex barriers.
In Minnesota, one-third of the Hispanic students tracked by the Department of Children, Families & Learning dropped out of high school in 1998, and 38 percent dropped out in 1997.
Less than one-third of the students who graduate attend college, said Bruce Schelske, Director of TRIO student support services.
If they complete high school, they are often first- or second-generation Americans and face a language barrier, said Sheryl Holt, composition coordinator for non-native English speakers at the University.
But it is not simply a matter of learning a new language. Other cultures and languages organize thoughts in different ways, she said.
“Language can be a barrier, but not the only barrier,” said Robin Murie, director of the University’s Commanding English program.
University faculty members sometimes assume all students have the same familiarity with American history and culture, which can be disconcerting for Hispanic students, she said.
Hispanic students want to be welcomed, taken seriously and treated fairly as academic students, which isn’t always the case, Schelske said.
Additionally, Hispanics are often the first in their families to attend college.
Studies have found that low-income Minnesotans of all races and ethnicities perceive college to cost twice as much as it does. They also perceive access to little financial aid to pay for it, said Schelske.
So based on that, why would parents encourage their children to go to college? It would just be setting them up only to let them down, Schelske said.
Beth Meza, a University human resources and development junior, said college education wasn’t discouraged in her St. Paul family, but it wasn’t encouraged, either.
The biggest barrier to a college education for students of color in Minnesota is income, Schelske said.
“Income and education are linked,” he said.
Only 8 percent of children who come from families making $22,000 or less a year have a college degree, while 56 percent of children from families with annual incomes above $68,000 have degrees, he continued.
“In just five years, Hispanics will be the largest U.S. minority. By 2050, nearly one-quarter of our population will be Hispanic,” Riley said in his speech.
“One in three members of the Latino population is under age 15,” he continued.
As the number of college-aged Hispanics grow, the University has several programs to encourage these students to attend and excel in college, including TRIO, Upward Bound, the Chicano/Latino Center, and dedicated English and freshman classes.
“Without those resources, I wouldn’t be here,” Meza said.
At such a huge University, the Hispanic organizations provide a sense of identity and a place to belong, she said.

Tammy Tucker covers religion and welcomes comments at [email protected]