We all gain when Latinos succeed
Originally published in the Ventura County Star
A booming Latino population is driving California's economy toward unprecedented gains. In all sectors, from business and education to technology and politics, Latinos are gaining more influence.
The growth of our Latino population will steer our economy in a positive direction for years. And now is the time for educational and political leaders to take bold steps to prepare for that growth, or risk falling behind in the national and global marketplace.
One of my main goals while serving in the state Legislature is to improve Latino graduation rates.
Let's look at the numbers:
About 4 out of 10 people in the state are of Latino or Hispanic descent. By 2040, Latinos are expected to become the state's majority. California has the largest Latino population in the nation.
More than half of the students enrolled in kindergarten to 12th grade are Latino. The median age of Latinos in California is 27, compared to 37 for white, non-Latinos. Latinos are younger, enrich our schools, and in our lifetime they will comprise the largest population in the state.
As numerous reports have noted, more than 60 percent of jobs will require some level of postsecondary education or training; thus, we must do everything we can to ensure that our next generation is fully prepared to meet this demand.
And this starts by creating ways for our fastest-growing population to not only enroll in our colleges and universities, but to have the resources to complete their courses.
Despite the gains, only 15.5 percent of Latino adults in California have achieved an associate's or four-year college degree, compared with 50 percent of all adults, according to the state Department of Education.
The current generation of Latinos is often the first to go to college and many families are just learning how to navigate the complex educational system.
Along those lines, Latinos often face financial struggles that some other college students do not. First-generation Latinos often live in households where both parents work and it is difficult to pay for college. Latino children often feel a cultural responsibility to also work and put money back into the family household.
In addition to those barriers, the educational system has presented challenges of its own.
Our colleges and universities have traditionally been a place for everybody. Technically they still are. But less state funding has led to fewer classes offered, and classes are often swallowed by students who have attended the longest through priority registration.
Community colleges, for example, should be a place for everybody, but when fewer classes are offered, new students suffer because classes become filled by the time new students have an opportunity to register. We want our community colleges to be a place where all students gain the education they need.
Closing the achievement gap is essential because by 2020, Latinos are expected to represent about 20 percent of the 18- to 64-year-old U.S. population, compared to 15 percent in 2008; by 2020 Latinos are projected to represent nearly 25 percent of the U.S. 18-29 year-old population, up from 18 percent in 2008, according to the Department of Education.
The Department of Education reports that 88 percent of Latino undergraduate students are U.S. citizens, 11 percent are resident aliens, and less than 2 percent are undocumented.
So what we have is a growing population with untapped potential to make California the leader in innovation across multiple sectors.
The success of Latino students means the success of the entire state.
If the U.S. wants to become the world leader in awarding college degrees, or possess a workforce that is competitive on a global level, it must immediately find ways to increase the number of degrees awarded, and find ways to boost the rate of Latino college completion.
President Obama has also called for the United States to be No. 1 in conferring college degrees by 2020.
The more educated we are, the more jobs we will create, and the more jobs we create with skilled workers to perform them, the more competitive we will be in the state, national and global workforce.