Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month With Some Thoughts on Higher Education

Today, nearly one quarter of the students in America’s public schools are Hispanic. By 2030, Hispanics will make up nearly 30% of all Americans in the work force. At the same time, less than 15% of college graduates are Hispanic. Moreover, by 2018, 63% of job openings will require a bachelor’s degree. This points to a sobering realization: Unless we are able to ensure that more Hispanics can get to and through college with a bachelor’s degree or higher, many in our community will be left behind and relegated to low skill employment with little opportunity for advancement or income growth.

Let’s look at this in another way. If 55 million Americans are Hispanic, are we seeing ‘ourselves’ represented in positions of leadership in the community, in healthcare, in education, the arts and in government? And similarly, what sorts of role models are we offering the next generation of Hispanic youth? We must count on this present generation of high school students to disrupt the notion that college is only for the select few and aspire to become a generation of leaders. The impact of the present generation’s success will lay the groundwork for future generations to follow suit.

Over the past few months, via our Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera program, we have had the pleasure of reconnecting with some of ‘our’ students who have made their way to college, and in some cases, just graduated. Our first cohort of Cisneros Hispanic Scholarship Foundation recipients includes John Barrios, a young man who just graduated from Yale and is currently a development analyst for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. He also has his sights set on a master’s degree. We are so deeply proud of his accomplishments to date and can already see the impact of his success on Pico Rivera. John came back to Pico Rivera in June to address the graduating ‘G1Ders’, as we call them, and to share his experiences. The students in attendance left with a clear impression of what to expect in college (hard work) and with tips on how to make the most of the experience (connect with other first generation college students, seek out mentors, make friends, reach out, stay in touch) and, perhaps more importantly, they were able to look a highly successful college graduate in the eye and say: He is just like me.

Jacki and I are committed to doing our part to ensure we have an entire generation of Hispanic college graduates by continuing to support our initiatives in Pico Rivera. We will celebrate with each high school graduate who receives her first acceptance letter to her college of choice and ensure that every student in Pico Rivera, from Kindergarten on up, sees themselves as college graduates and future leaders.