Ms. Martinez Tucker says that Hispanic children living in poverty confront at least two major obstacles to college attendance – insufficient money and negative attitudes. Parents, she says, cite the lack of money as the reason why their children can’t attend college, while students point to a shortage of role models. "They say, 'Nobody in our community went to college and lived a better life than my family, so what is my incentive?' " says Ms. Martinez Tucker.
Once Hispanic students arrive at college, the obstacles they face fall into three types – financial, academic, and social. Along with providing scholarships, the HSF is developing programs to help students overcome academic and social barriers, says Ms. Martinez Tucker. Such programs include student chapters on college campuses, alumni mentoring, and Saturday clinics for parents and their college-age children. The Saturday clinics, held in areas with large Hispanic populations, help create a college-bound culture by stimulating interest in college, assisting with the application process, and providing information about financial aid, Ms. Martinez Tucker says.
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.
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