My mother was a successful sculptor. Some years she made a better living as a fulltime artist than I have as a newspaper editor, but she had an abiding regret – she didn’t have a college degree. This wasn’t unusual for women of her generation in Guatemala, but for my mother – a lifelong reader and learner – nothing was about the way things were but the way they might be.
She accrued credit hours from the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), from Silpakorn University in Bangkok and from la Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala -- in courses from fine arts to physics -- but no degree. She regretted this most acutely the years when her art didn’t even sustain her material costs and my parents’ existence would have been eased by a second income. Those years, she found herself with no means to supplement income as her artist peers were doing – with teaching gigs secured by resumes no better than hers but for one thing: the degree.
I make the argument time and again that we as a society should better acknowledge and respect those who chose to go into trades and skilled labor that don’t require a college degree (my husband is a butcher, after all) and that we should recognize that not having a college degree is no indicator of intellectual and/or creative genius (Hello? Steve Jobs and Bill Gates anyone?).
But that argument doesn’t invalidate the reality – a college degree is a basic requirement for many jobs.
And yet not too many years ago, when I was interviewing a representative whose district includes portions of Reading, Pa. (a city that has seen substantial growth in Latino communities) I heard the elected official dismiss the low rates of college enrollment in his district this way: Not everyone should go to college. The reality is that the not everyone in his district translated to not Latinos in his district. His district is not an isolated instance. According to a New York Times piece from May, 2011 (http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/05/24/the-downsized-college-graduate/a-gap-for-latino-graduates) fewer than half of young Latinos expect to get a college degree.
Despite that, college enrollment rates for Latinos have spiked recently -- 24 percent from 2009 to 2010 according to the Pew Hispanic Center (http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=146) and there are a number of initiatives to strengthen educational success among young Latinos. One of those efforts is Univision’s “Es el Momento” campaign, which focuses on college readiness and high school and college completion. Others have been undertaken by Latinos in Social Media (LATISM), a non-profit organization whose mission includes improving educational opportunities for Latinos via social media.
Their efforts are a vital part of ensuring that Latino children -- nearly 1 in 4 children in America -- are able to envision a future for themselves that might, can, will include college.