Low college attendance and graduation rates mean that Hispanics, as a whole, continue to lag behind the national average in educational attainment, income, taxes paid, and quality of life, say Ms. Martinez Tucker and others.
According to the Census Bureau, the value of a bachelor’s degree continues to climb. In 1990, people holding a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $600,000 more over a lifetime than people holding a high school diploma, and a recent study places that figure at $1 million.
A college degree, then, is an investment in the future, and borrowing to pay for that investment is becoming more common. During the past quarter century, federal student aid has evolved from a grant-based to a loan-based system, according to studies released this year by The College Board.
Loans have become a necessity for many Hispanic students because scholarship growth hasn’t kept pace with enrollment increases. This year the HSF awarded $22.1 million in scholarships – the most in its history – and still turned away 4,956 fully qualified Hispanic students with a mean grade-point-average of 3.37.
Ms. Martinez Tucker says the shift toward loan-based financial aid has created an additional hardship for Hispanic students, whose culture generally frowns on borrowing money. That may explain, in part, why Hispanics tend to rely less on financial aid than other ethnic groups do. A 1999 Census Bureau report, based on the 1993–94 school year, found that 57 percent of Hispanic college students received financial aid, versus 59 percent of Anglo students and 77 percent of African-American students.
For most consumer purchases, saving sufficient money to pay in full might be a good idea, but delaying college in order to save up, or working while attending college, increases the likelihood that a student will drop out.
The downside to borrowing is that it places students in a financial bind after they graduate. That hardship is amplified among lower-income families, which tend to have more people to support, says Dr. Antonio Flores, president and CEO of HACU.
"Any repayment burden, such as a loan, weighs more heavily on them and may temper their desire to go on from a community college to a four-year institution or graduate program," he says.
Community colleges play a particularly important role in educating the Hispanic population, according to Dr. Jesus “Jess” Carreon, president of Portland Community College and chairman-elect of the American Association of Community Colleges. Nationwide, 80 percent of Hispanics who attend college begin at the community college level, he says, adding that Hispanic students choose community colleges because of cost, proximity to home, and the belief that community college courses are just as good as those at four-year colleges and universities.
According to Mr. Carreon, fees per credit hour may range from $11 at a community college to $900 at a private baccalaureate college.
Community colleges also tend to be closer to Hispanic population centers, allowing students either to live at home while attending classes or to live closer to their families than they otherwise would.
The ultimate desirability of attending a community college as opposed to a four-year university is open to debate. Mr. Carreon, for example, likes to point to his experience as an example of what one can achieve via the community college route.
He received an associate’s degree from Grossmont College, east of San Diego, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University. He then earned a master’s degree in management from the University of California at Irvine and a doctorate in higher education from the University of Southern California.
He credits his associate’s degree with anchoring his future academic success, and he says it’s common for Hispanics to transfer to four-year colleges and universities after earning a degree from a community college.
Mr. Flores, on the other hand, wouldn’t describe attending a community college as a disadvantage, but he says many people who intend to transfer to a four-year college end up working after receiving their associate’s degrees.
"Oftentimes they just decide to find a well-paying job and stick to it to make ends meet and provide income for the family," he says. "In the short term, it might appear to be good decision, but in the long term it might not be to their advantage."
Mr. Flores and Ms. Martinez Tucker both say that colleges and universities are generally doing a good job recruiting Hispanic students.
Schools that are successful in recruiting and retaining Hispanic students typically have programs to address their unique financial and social needs. The Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one example. Last September, Hispanic Business named Kenan-Flagler one of the top 10 business schools in the nation for Hispanic students.
Sherry Wallace, director of MBA admissions, says UNC works to attract Hispanic students through its participation in the Consortium for Graduate Study and Management. The consortium of 14 universities and 200 corporations is working to address the shortage of minorities in Corporate America. Eleven of the 14 consortium members allow prospective MBA students to apply using a common application, and the consortium provides merit fellowships to outstanding applicants.
The UNC business school is popular among Hispanic students because of its relatively small size – 270 students, compared with 400 to 600 at other business schools – and its collaborative environment, Ms. Wallace says. The school also works to create a support network by providing social outlets such as the Alliance of Minority Business Students and the National Society of Hispanic MBAs.
While the consortium is working to increase opportunities for minorities in Corporate America, efforts continue elsewhere to increase the number of Hispanics pursuing degrees in math, science, engineering, and technology, says Mr. Flores.
"We are not serving our nation well when we do not prepare our young people to take on those positions," he says. "The harm goes well beyond the Hispanic community and goes to the heart of our economy and social well-being as a nation."