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Contact: Heather Jack
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E-mail: hjack@highereducation.org

June 11, 2003

Academically Qualified Hispanic Students Still Face Tough Obstacles on the Road to College


San Jose, CA and New York, NY-- New focus group research suggests that academically qualified Hispanic high school students are often derailed on the road to higher education by low expectations from teachers, poor understanding of the college admissions and financial aid processes, and little adult support. Those are findings in With Diploma in Hand: Hispanic High School Seniors Talk About Their Future, a new report prepared by Public Agenda for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

"The idea for this research began with an earlier survey showing that Hispanic parents place enormous emphasis on higher education," said John Immerwahr, author of the report and Senior Research Fellow at Public Agenda. "They believe that a college education is a prerequisite for a good job and a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. Despite this belief, statistics show that Hispanic high school students are less likely to go on to full-time higher education and less likely to graduate with a degree. The purpose of this research was to probe this gap."

The analysis reports on interviews with 50 Hispanic high school seniors from Arizona, California, Illinois, New York, and Texas. Some of the students interviewed were on a clear college track and others appeared unlikely to attend college. The middle group-referred to in the study as "college-maybes"-appeared academically qualified for college-level work, but still faced significant obstacles. Researchers caution that the observations from these interviews are not definitive, but are intended to form the basis of a much larger study of the experiences of Hispanic youth.

The "college-maybe" students often struggled with challenges ranging from lack of help with applications to lack of knowledge of the rules of the game to lack of financial resources. According to Immerwahr, "Unlike college-bound students from upper- and middle-class families, whose parents tend to be well-informed about higher education and heavily involved in the application process, these students seem to have to do all of the decision-making about their educational future themselves, with little adult guidance." The "college-maybes" were often poorly informed about the process of applying for college. Several students were prime candidates for financial aid, but were not aware that grants existed.

The youngsters in the group interviewed were also hampered by low expectations from their teachers. According to the report, "The teachers appeared to be so preoccupied and discouraged that they had little energy left for those students who really had a chance at further education."

In addition, these interviews suggest that many "college-maybes" believed they needed to know what they would study in college before enrolling. "The idea of going to college without a specific career goal in mind made little sense to some of these students," notes the report.

Students who faced these obstacles were more likely to make poor choices about their future. But with the support and influence of a parent or other adult, students could make a successful transition from high school to college, the report concludes.

"What this research suggests is that the decision to go to college requires a certain degree of knowledge, guidance, and even faith in long-term rewards over short-term gains," said Immerwahr. "Hispanic students are hardly unique in facing obstacles-yet they may be somewhat distinctive in their lack of support from knowledgeable, education-savvy adults who can help them overcome this typical teenage deficiency. In future research, we should assess how widespread these problems are across the Hispanic population."

"What we have is a Latino population that is growing both in size and importance, but many of the approaches that we have depended on to recruit and retain Latino students are no longer adequate," said Arturo Madrid, Murchison Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Trinity University and an advisory group member to the project. "All of this calls for new research and new creative thinking, and I hope this report will provide a stimulus to take additional steps."

This report also includes commentary from advisory members of the project, including: Marlene L. Garcia, Principal Consultant to the Education Committee of the California Senate; Arturo Madrid, Murchison Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Trinity University; Jamie A. Molera, Former Superintendent of Public Instruction of the Arizona Department of Education; and Alfredo G. de los Santos Jr., Research Professor of the Hispanic Research Center at Arizona State University.

With Diploma In Hand: Hispanic High School Seniors Talk About Their Future is based on focus-group research. In total, 50 Hispanic high school seniors in San Antonio, Santa Clara (California), Tucson, Chicago, and New York were interviewed for this study.

John Immerwahr, author of the report, is a Senior Research Fellow at Public Agenda and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Villanova University.

The report was released today by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and Public Agenda. Additional copies of this report can be found at the National Center's web site: www.highereducation.org. The idea for further research in this area was based on findings from Great Expectations: How the Public and Parents-White, African-American, and Hispanic-View Higher Education by John Immerwahr with Tony Foleno. Copies of this study are also available on the National Center's web site.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes public policies that enhance Americans' opportunities to pursue and achieve a quality higher education. The National Center was established in 1998 with founding grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Atlantic Philanthropies that have supported the initiation and continuation of its programs, including the biannual state-by-state report card on higher education. The Ford Foundation also has provided core support to the National Center.

Public Agenda is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit public opinion research organization, located in New York City, and is well respected for its influential public opinion polls and its balanced citizen education materials. Founded in 1975 by Cyrus R. Vance, the former U.S. secretary of state, and Daniel Yankelovich, the social scientist and author, its mission is to inform leaders about the public's view and to inform citizens about government policy. For information on Public Agenda's higher education guide, please visit www.publicagenda.org

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