October 16, 2014
By MacKenzie Elmer
Hispanics are the fastest-growing population in the United States and Iowa, projected to make up one-third of the people living in the county by 2060.
But it's still a group that faces adversity in education, an issue White House and state leaders attempted to unwrap at a conference on Wednesday. Over 300 people convened for the 2014 Iowa Latina/o Education Initiative Conference at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny.
Iowa schools should focus on hiring more Hispanic teachers, engage students' families and support students from "cradle to career," said Marco Davis, deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
"Hispanics are not just the largest but also the youngest minority group in the country," Davis said. "The extent to which Latinos excel academically will affect the nation's overall economy and prosperity."
Many Hispanic youths are the first in their family to consider pursuing education after high school.
Brenda Rocha, 20, of Des Moines is starting her first semester at DMACC and stopped by the conference to meet others like her. The first-generation college student said she doesn't have support from her family to pursue a degree and takes the bus to class.
"I was a high school dropout. Right when I dropped out, my family doubted me. Everybody doubted me," Rocha said.
Rocha decided one day she didn't like her warehouse job after realizing she'd make only about $16 an hour with little chance of a raise. So, Rocha signed up for classes and met a teacher who taught her how to manage stress and motivate herself.
"That really helped me in my life," she said. "It feels like a family here."
A large portion of Hispanics choose a two-year degree at a community or technical college instead of pursuing a four-year degree.
Iowa Department of Education Director Brad Buck said a four-year degree is not "the golden ticket" it once was. He pointed to a high drop-out rate at four-year institutions and the debt those students accrue.
A four-year degree is right for some people, Buck said, but "a path to prosperity, at least in Iowa especially for careers in mid-skills, is community colleges."
Laura Rendón, a professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio, said Hispanics are underrepresented in high-level positions, which means it's important to move students from community colleges to four-year institutions.
"Somebody from a two-year degree from a for-profit school is likely never to be governor, is likely never to be a legislator, is likely never to be a faculty member like myself, is likely never to head up a bank," Rendón said.
These kinds of jobs are primarily going to affluent and middle-class students, Rendón said.
"I'm not worried about the next plumber who is Latino, because we have plenty of them. … I'm worried about the next mayor, the next chemist, then next architect, the next president, the next governor. And it's not going to happen if we lower expectations," Rendón said.
Source: The Des Moines Register