They Are Us: Why the Nation's Future Is Riding on Latino Students' Success

It's past time to see Latino educational success as a novel issue that must be addressed. Our collective economic and social well-being will be shaped and driven by the educational success of Latinos. That means it's an issue we must all address, with conviction and cooperation.
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Everywhere you look this election season, campaigns are wooing the Hispanic vote. Rising stars such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro played prominent roles at this summer's national political conventions. Both presidential candidates gave extended interviews to Univision in recent weeks, and both have made frequent visits to swing states such as Florida, Colorado and Nevada ― states with large Latino populations.

The reason for this political push is obvious: The rapid growth of the Latino population has made this group a highly coveted voting bloc. A new study from the Center for Immigration Studies concludes that Latino voters represent nearly 9 percent of the 2012 voting electorate, up 1.5 percentage points since 2008. That's a lot of political clout -- enough to determine the election's outcome, some experts say.

But let's not be shortsighted. The fact is, the election isn't merely about the political clout of Latinos. As the largest and fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, Hispanics represent this nation's very future. And right now, we're simply not doing enough to secure that future ... because too few Latinos are getting the education they need to succeed.

Latinos represent the latest in a long line of immigrant groups, from Irish and Italians in the late 19th and early 20th century to the more recent waves of immigrants from Asia, who are making their mark on American society. The majority are native born, and the talent that they bring to the American workforce is wide -- from accomplished professionals who are doctors, lawyers and engineers to service workers and laborers, and everything in between.

Yet as a group, far too few Latinos are educated to meet the nation's burgeoning needs for talent. According to the 2010 Census, just 19 percent of Latinos between 25 and 64 years old had at least a two-year college degree. For whites, the figure is 43 percent. That gap is shockingly huge.

Juxtapose those unsettling numbers with another unmistakable trend: the rapidly rising number of jobs requiring postsecondary (post-high school) education. In the coming decade, two-thirds of all American jobs will require some form of postsecondary education or training, according to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. In short, jobs are becoming more complex, more demanding, and employers are increasingly seeking workers with college-level learning -- even if they must seek them in other countries.

The call to action is clear, and this statement from an organization called New Futuro sums it up it perfectly: "As Latinos become more than one-third of the American population, it is imperative for our economic future that they earn a college degree. It's not a Latino issue; it's an American issue."
Many organizations are working to advance the cause of Latino student success. My own organization, Lumina Foundation, is actively engaged. Working with Excelencia in Education and collaborating with several local and regional funding organizations (including The Goizueta Foundation, Edwin Gould Foundation and the Foundations of East Chicago), we recently launched a multi-state effort to increase Latino student success.

This effort ― to which Lumina has pledged more than $11 million over four years -- supports community-based partnerships in 13 communities spread over 11 states. All of these partnerships are designed to tap into the power of cooperation at the local level, and all are geared toward one end: significant improvement in Latino student college preparation, access and success.

And Lumina is certainly not alone in this work. Other organizations are tackling the imperative of Latino student success as well. One of the most influential, Excelencia in Education, can point to many efforts, including a national initiative called Ensuring America's Future by Increasing Latino College Completion. The Hispanic Scholarship Fund has Generation 1st Degree, which is dedicated to ensuring that "every Hispanic household in America produces at least one college graduate. And Univision Communications has its Es El Momento (The Moment is Now) initiative, a program that aims to improve academic achievement and college readiness among young Latinos.

All of these efforts -- and many others across the country -- are commendable and very much needed. But they're also just the beginning. Much more must be done if we are to turn the trends around -- and not only by organizations who serve Latinos as their primary mission.

It's past time to see Latino educational success as a novel issue that must be addressed. Our collective economic and social well-being will be shaped and driven by the educational success of Latinos. That means it's an issue we must all address, with conviction and cooperation ― no matter which party prevails in November.

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