Hispanic Americans are strongly committed to achieving the American dream of a college education, a new nationwide survey by OppenheimerFunds shows. But in a troubled economy, that goal is "under siege," as only a small percentage are able to save up to make the dream a reality.
"College Within Reach," a survey sponsored by OppenheimerFunds Inc., was conducted by phone in February. A polling firm interviewed 958 non-Hispanic U.S. parents of pre-college-age children, in addition to a separate sample of 325 Hispanic families.
Of those Hispanics polled, nearly all -- 95 percent -- said they view sending their children to college as an "essential part of the American dream," on par with homeownership and a comfortable retirement.
"The survey evidences a particularly strong commitment among Hispanics -- greater than the general population in many respects -- to helping their kids reach and stay in college," Donna Winn, president and CEO of OFI Private Investments Inc., said today in a news release announcing the findings.
The poll revealed that in some ways Hispanic families are more optimistic about the goal than non-Hispanics. The results showed that 72 percent of Hispanics viewed college as within reach for anyone who wants to go, compared with 63 percent of non-Hispanics.
"The college aspirations of Hispanic parents draw support from a deep belief in the value of education, a belief even more widespread than among non-Hispanic parents," the survey stated.
The poll revealed that both Hispanic and non-Hispanic parents see a shining example of the value of higher education in President Barack Obama, who graduated from top universities and achieved the nation's highest office despite a modest upbringing. But more Hispanic parents (61 percent) than non-Hispanic parents (38 percent) agreed that Obama's rise to the presidency "proves that a good education makes anything possible."
Raquel "Rocky" Granahan, a senior vice president and director in Oppenheimer's Wealth Management Group, told HispanicBusiness.com that "the dream of college has always been alive and well" and Hispanic families "have this dream no matter who is president and what the economy is like."
For Hispanics, attending college isn't just a dream. The survey discovered that parents are taking the right steps to get their children on a path to higher education.
OppenheimerFunds found that Hispanic parents with children ages 7 and older are: helping their kids with homework (73 percent); encouraging their children to participate in sports, clubs and other activities (68 percent); and meeting with teachers and counselors (64 percent, compared with 56 percent of non-Hispanic parents).
While more than three-quarters of the Hispanics say they want to finance at least 50 percent of their child's college expenses, including 21 percent who say they want to cover the entire cost, their hopes may be out of sync with financial realities. A quarter of those polled said they had saved less than $1,000 for college expenses, and 12 percent hadn't saved anything. Nearly half (45 percent) said they had put college saving on hold because of the economic downturn.
Only 35 percent of Hispanics polled said they have a financial adviser, compared with 47 percent of non-Hispanics. But more than half (54 percent) of Hispanics said they would be interested in working with an adviser to learn more about 529 savings plans. Such plans, which are operated by a state or educational institution, are designed to help families set aside money for future college expenses. The contributions to them grow tax-deferred and withdrawals are federal-tax free when used for specified educational expenses. The plan gets its name from Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, which created these kinds of plans in 1996.
More than 80 percent of Hispanics surveyed said the cost of college is worth it, given its value. And 93 percent said they intend to send at least one of their children to a four-year college. "Hispanic parents strongly believe that a college degree makes a huge difference -- and, in fact, is indispensable when it comes to fundamental quality of life and the ability to compete successfully for life's advantages," said Cesar Bastidas, regional manager at OppenheimerFunds. Bastidas' parents came to the United States from Colombia and incurred much debt to finance their son's private college education.
Granahan, a first-generation college graduate whose family moved to the U.S. from the Philippines in the 1970s, said the goal in a family's quest for college should be to "graduate with a diploma, not debt." With that in mind, OppenheimerFunds has launched a new educational Web site, CollegeWithinReach.com. Granahan said the site, which is not product-specific or state-specific, is a "community place" that offers "savings solutions and strategies."
Both Granahan and Bastidas said they believe such a resource would have been helpful to their parents as they were planning for their children's college educations. The Web site has articles, interactive tools, research, expert advice and more on all aspects of planning for college. There is also a Spanish-language section of the site.
"Despite the obstacles," the study concluded, "Hispanic families have very strong hopes around college for their kids, and are taking many of the practical steps necessary to achieve the dream."
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