They are the fastest-growing sector of the United States’ college age population, but according to the most recent Census, the dropout rate of 21 percent for Latinos between 16 and 19 is almost double that of black students and more than two and a half times that of white students.
Recent demographic changes have turned the statistic into an urgent economic and social problem. In 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Latinos had became the largest minority in the United States, overtaking African-Americans. By 2025, demographers forecast that one of every five workers in America will be Latino.
While many programs exist to help minority and low-income students succeed in education, Latino advocates contend there are not enough programs that address problems particular to Latino students.
USF will take one such program under its wing when it takes over the funding of the Engaging Latino Communities for Education, or ENLAC… program, although it will ask the program to broaden its scope to support low-income students of all backgrounds.
ENLAC… started in 2000 as one of 13 programs funded by grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. With money from the grant due to run out in January, the Latin American Student Association said they were concerned that the 4-year-old program would disappear.
“I’m glad because we’re going to be able to help students here at USF, not only Latinos but a diversity of students,” said Juan Pineda, president of the Latin America Student Association.
ENLAC… will be funded by Academic Affairs. USF provost Renu Khator said the budget for the program, which has existed on a $1.75 million grant since it began in 2000, has not been finalized.
“There are several components that the university will have to fund and several for which fund raising can be done,” Khator said. “It makes sense to have advisers funded from USF but events can be sponsored.”
The program targets Latino middle- and high-school students in the Leto, East Bay and Plant City areas of Hillsborough County, helping them make the transition to high school and advising them of college application and testing deadlines. To achieve these goals, ENLAC… partners with Hillsborough County school district, Hillsborough Community College and the Hispanic Services Council, which provides a social services component to the program.
Population changes in Hillsborough County have highlighted the need for programs such as ENLAC…. The number of K-12 students who come from homes where Spanish is spoken increased by 41 percent between the 2002 and 2003 academic years, according to the county’s school district.
At USF, the ENLAC… office helps students progress toward graduation, helping with financial aid applications, SATs, CLEP tests and entry to grad school, assistance it does not limit to Latino students.
“The word is out among the students, when you need help with the system go to see (ENLAC…). We’re already doing it because they come here,” said Donna Parrino, project director for ENLAC….
Parrino said changing cultural beliefs and practices that often hinder Latino children’s progress at school is a key part of the program’s approach to improving Latino students’ performance in the classroom. For instance, less Latino children participate in pre-school than black or white children.
“The thinking in the culture is that the children are better off with mommy or grandmother in the home when that’s not the case, the student would be better off getting that preparation for school,” Parrino said.
Additionally, many Latino children have to master two languages and those whose parents do not speak English may miss school to help their parents, Parrino said.
“If something occurs in the family then the student can’t go to school,” she said. “The child has to go with the parents to the doctor or if an appliance is going to be delivered or repaired, there’s a lot of absenteeism for things like that.”
Unfamiliar with the idea of traditional residential colleges, some Latino parents limit their children’s choices to local universities, denying them access to residency programs, Parrino said. In Florida, children of undocumented workers are further hindered by state legislation that prevents them from being eligible for in-state tuition rates.
“It’s a shame in this land of plenty and nation of opportunity that children feel they don’t have that (opportunity),” Parrino said.
Vice Provost Ralph Wilcox said the university’s funding of ENLAC… is an important step in a state that has somewhat neglected the needs of its Latino population.
“Florida as a state has overlooked or been a little slow on the uptake compared to California and Texas, which are both border states, and other northern states that have long recognized the increasing importance and growing significance of Latino populations,” Wilcox said.