The findings in this report reinforce public perceptions about how and why some Hispanic students fall into a mindset that makes it difficult for them to go on to college.
We know that there are at least two impediments for many Hispanic students. On the one hand there are financial impediments; the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education does a good job showing us how, in many areas, the costs to the student are increasing, while financial aid is either unavailable or inadequate.9 Money, however, is not the only obstacle. There are academic issues as well, and these are equally important and in some ways more difficult to deal with. Unless we can address them, we will not succeed.
In this country, we like to say that we abhor tracking, and that tracking is the European way, not the American way. But the study suggests that there is a system of tracking for many Hispanic students that starts early and is very persistent. One of the main keys to this de facto system of tracking is expectations. Let's start with the group that the report calls the "college-prep" students. These students don't just magically decide they want to go to college when they become high school seniors. These are the same kids who come to kindergarten already knowing the alphabet and the numbers. This starts with the expectations of the parents, but soon it translates into expectations by the teachers and the other students as well. In effect, these students start their schooling with a little academic nest egg of expectations and preparation, and that nest egg earns compounded interest over the next 12 years. At every stage of the process, these students are doing well and are receiving the guidance they need, and their readiness for further work grows as they go along. As a result, they become the "college-prep" students that the researchers interviewed, poised for a good college experience, perhaps graduate school after that, and a good career.
The "non-college-bound students" are just the reverse. If you look at a lot of these children at a young age, you'll find that their parents also believe and hope that they will go to college. In real terms, however, the expectations are different for these students. They may have moved from school to school, and usually don't get a strong academic foundation from either parents or teachers. Soon the idea develops in their own minds that they are not like "those kids who go to college." When they meet a financial or other obstacle, it further reinforces the expectation that they are not destined for college-level work.
The "college-maybes" are in the middle. They have some motivation, but they are also very fragile. Without that built-up nest egg of expectations, they are easily knocked off track, or distracted by the idea that maybe they can postpone college for a few years or maybe go start a business first.
What all this suggests is that while as a society we say that we believe that "no child should be left behind," we don't always put our money and our actions behind our words. If we really believed those words, it would have tremendous and radical policy implications for dozens of different areas, from how we finance schools and hold them accountable, to how we train teachers. To take just one example identified in the report, many students move from school to school as their parents move from neighborhood to neighborhood. A real commitment to student education would also mean that we would have to look at things like affordable home ownership, to give children and families the stability they need.
In total, then, the report reinforces the concern that college attendance is only one symptom of a more pervasive system of tracking by expectations.
Jaime A. Molera is principal of J. A. Molera Consulting, L.L.C., focusing on business development and government relations in Arizona. He has held a variety of high-level positions in the state government, including serving as state superintendent of public instruction and top advisor to Governor Jane Dee Hull on legislative and educational issues. He has a bachelor's degree from Arizona State University, and has been recognized by Hispanic Business Magazine as one of the top 100 Hispanic leaders in the United States.