Hispanic Girls Face Special Barriers on Road to College
Hispanic women are more likely than Hispanic men to complete high school and college, but they still trail white and African-American women
Dallas-After 15-year-old Valerie Sanchez spent a day of her spring break in Fort Worth touring the well-manicured grounds of Texas Christian University and listening to an inspirational talk from members of a Latina sorority, she felt sure of her future.
But like many young Latinas, she faces a host of challenges in the coming years, as she works to graduate from high school, go on to community college, and then enroll in a four-year institution.
Sanchez moved from Mexico when she was 9 years old and enrolled in the 156,000-student Dallas Independent School District. After taking bilingual classes taught in Spanish and English, she found the transition to all-English classes in middle school difficult.
Consequently, Sanchez was held back in the 8th grade last year at Edison Middle Learning Center here in Dallas. She now attends tutoring sessions after school in addition to programs provided by Girls Inc. that focus on career planning and pregnancy prevention.
The plight of Latino young men often dominates the discussion of graduation rates. But young Latinas also face cultural, economic, and educational barriers to finishing high school and entering and completing college.
"There's the assumption that girls are doing fine," says Lara Kaufmann, a senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, in Washington. "It's true that within ethnic groups girls are doing better than boys. But they're not doing well."
Falling BehindWhile Hispanic women are more likely to graduate from high school and college when compared with Hispanic men, some statistics suggest they trail behind African-American and white women on some such measures.
Postsecondary Engagement Lags for Latinas
To delve into why such gaps persist, the National Women's Law Center collaborated with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on a 2009 study on educational outcomes for Latinas.
While the middle and high school girls interviewed in the report said they wanted to graduate from college, they also said they didn't expect to achieve that goal. The report also cited challenges for them in reaching educational goals, including such difficulties as immigration status, poverty, discrimination, low self-esteem, higher rates of depression and attempted suicide, gender stereotypes, and limited English proficiency.
A cultural emphasis on loyalty to family also can play a role. Latinas may be expected to take on additional duties as caregivers, such as helping to watch younger children or aid elderly family members. They may be expected to live with their parents until they are married, making it difficult to leave home to go away to college.
Ties That BindCelina Cardenas mentors Hispanic girls in the 37,000-student Richardson Independent School District in the Dallas suburbs. Cardenas, a district community-relations coordinator, is Mexican-American and feels she can relate to their experiences.
Family loyalty can cause Hispanic girls to choose less-competitive colleges than they are qualified to attend so they can keep living with their parents. They may also not be well informed about financial-aid opportunities to attend more expensive schools.
University of Texas at San Antonio education professor Anne-Marie Nuñez says that when girls live at home while in college, they may have a hard time focusing on their studies because of family obligations.
"They may be juggling multiple responsibilities that pull them away from being able to focus on their studies," Nuñez says. "Other family members may not understand the energy they need to focus on their studies."
In Texas, a nonprofit online magazine written by girls, called Latinitas, aims to empower young women. The organization also provides workshops, mentoring, and college tours. On the website, Saray Argumedo, 23, shares her own experiences about the tension with her family when she studied at the University of Texas at El Paso.
"All I can do is ask for forgiveness when my mom questions why I spend all my time outside of the house studying, working, and getting involved in my community," she writes. "I thought that they would be proud of me, but why are they so angry?"
Teenage MotherhoodYoung Latinas also are more likely than most young women in the United States to have their own children as teenagers. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in Washington, about 52 percent of Latinas become pregnant before age 20, nearly twice the national average. In Dallas, the nonprofit group Alley's House helps mothers complete their General Educational Development, or GED, studies and build their confidence.
Consuelo says her daughter is her motivation to finish school. "I'm trying to be the best I can for her," she says.
Despite the challenges, says Nuñez, the education professor, "the truth is Latino families have as high aspirations as other groups. Sometimes, they just don't know how to translate those aspirations to reality."
Source: Education Week