Making college accessible to all

Demographic trends show that the Latino population will become the stateâÄôs largest ethnic group within the next 10 years. Yet as the Latino community grows to reach majority-minority status, high school graduation rates for Latino youth remain alarmingly low. Overall Minnesota is lauded for its top educational performance, yet when analyzed through a race-based lens, the disparities in graduation rates and college enrollment rates between white students and students of color are daunting. Today, out of the 45,000 Latino students enrolled in the K-12 system, less than half (or 42 percent) graduate from high school. Out of those, only 17 percent are able to enroll in college and pursue a degree in higher education. As students who enroll at the University of Minnesota because we care about education, we must ask ourselves, what is our campus doing to ensure that all Latino students âÄî regardless of immigration status or income level âÄî are able to attend this land grant institution? From one perspective, one could point to a couple rays of hope thundering from within the hallways of our privileged institution. This spring semester, more than 30 University students (including our selves) have decided to volunteer, intern, or do our service-learning involvement with the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network (MIFN) to help launch their 5th Annual Student Day at the Capitol this Tuesday, April 21. The college volunteers involved with the MIFNâÄôs efforts believe that itâÄôs simply not enough to help Latino high school students navigate through the educational system. We believe we must all come together to change the system in order to meet the needs of our global realities. Indeed, we 30 plus volunteers are helping to make education more affordable and accessible for all âÄî and we do so with the active support of our classroom professors and instructors. We as students can count on the guidance and support of various academic departments to facilitate our involvement in the off-campus community. As students the Spanish and Portuguese, Global Studies, Political Science, Social Justice, African American Studies, and Chicano Studies departments have been particularly helpful in making the connections between the riveting histories in our books and real world struggles for equal access to higher education. But even though these positive efforts thrive in small pockets throughout the University, many unequal realities prevail which are supported by public policies and institutional formalities. For example, even though the day at the Capitol brings more than 1,000 Latino high school students to rally for their dreams of a college education, the day after the Capitol high school youth are inserted back into a public school systems which can only afford to provide one high school counselor per 1,000 students. This overload of work on a single counselor demonstrates the lack of investment in educational mentorship and guidance that many students need, especially if they are first generation college students whose parents donâÄôt know how to navigate the college application process. Another example lies in the lack of investment in the Department of Chicano Studies, one of the main Latino serving departments at the University of Minnesota. Even though the Department of Chicano Studies hosts programs such as the Minnesotano Media Empowerment Project and the Latinos in Higher Education Network, the department itself has no tenured or tenured-track faculty actively teaching in the department. As the face of democracy changes with the Latinoization of Minnesota, we are should all figure out what steps we can take to eliminate the racial disparities embedded in the educational system. It is an age old adage that education is a human right, but decision makers should still be reminded that for every $1 we invest in a studentâÄôs education today, we get $10 in return from a higher tax base of professional workers. As racial disparities permeate all aspects of the educational system, as baby boomers retire at record rates, and with looming budget cuts hanging over our heads, the pressure mounting for the system to change is unstoppable. System change is one of the goals of the day at the Capitol, when high school and college students come together with their allies to remove the economic and institutional barriers standing in the way of a college education. Anyone can join the Student Day at the Capitol to help build a broad based college access movement and help make college more affordable for all. We hope that as the demographics of Minnesota change and the need for a more educated work force becomes apparent, the University of Minnesota and the student body become more involved in making a college education more affordable for all. Emma Paskewitz and Claire Fleming, University of Minnesota undergraduates, work with the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network. Please send comments to [email protected]