Including Latino Parents In The Higher Education Conversation


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By Annika Darling

It is widely noted that the population of Latinos in America is rapidly growing, and as this role of Latinos becomes more significant, it becomes imperative to tackle the challenges the community faces in regards to higher education.
A major component to the success of Latino students in the higher education system is the role that parents play. However, with many Latinos of college age being first generation, parents find themselves with limited knowledge, and the students find themselves alone in the process – which, unintentionally, creates a huge hurdle for Latino students in their pursuit of a higher education.
Deborah A. Santiago in an article entitled All Together: the Role of Latino Families in Higher Education, discusses the critical role family plays in Latinos success in college. She writes, “It is commonly assumed that family responsibilities and lack of family support prevent Latino students from going to college. While this may be the case for some students, in fact, Latinos’ lower educational-attainment levels often have more to do with two key factors: the relative youth of the population—the median age of Latinos in the United States is 27, compared with 37 for all groups—and many families’ limited knowledge of the college process, including costs, options, and support systems. Latino families frequently lack knowledge of financial-aid options, the increased educational expectations of students beyond high school, and the distinctions among different types of colleges.”
Nilvio Perez, director of admission at Albertus Magnus College, describes that as a first generation Latino himself, he saw how difficult it can be to navigate the higher education process with very little guidance. “I couldn’t ask my parents,” Perez says, “because they didn’t know very much about it. I had to learn a lot really quickly and on my own. Later I was able to pass on what I learned to my sister and she was much more prepared.”
Perez advises that Latino parents be involved in the college process as early as possible. This means Latino students bringing them into the conversation and not keeping them in the dark. Perez says, “Many times Latino students forget their parents in the process. They forget to talk to them about things like living on campus, and about loans. The sooner students include their parents in the conversation the better.”
Secondly, Perez suggests that those Latino students that do go through the process as first generation become guides for their community, and pass on the knowledge they have learned about the college process.
Yanil Teron, executive director at Center for Latino Progress, understands the importance of encouraging more young Latinos to pursue college and helping students and parents alike find the information to help them navigate the college process. Teron says, “There aren’t many organizations here (in Connecticut) where Latinos can get this information. School counselors tend to be their only source of information, but they have so many kids they are working with they may not have the time to educate Latinos and their families.
Teron has been working on getting the funding to open an organization in the Connecticut area that will be a valuable resource for Latinos seeking a higher education. However, she can’t say when or even if this is will become a reality.
“Parents want their children to succeed,” says Teron. “I don’t think that any parent intentionally holds their children back. I think they make decisions based on the information they have.  This is why it is so important that parents receive not only enough information, but the right information.”
Colleges have begun to recognize the need to incorporate Latino parents in the college process and are looking into innovative ways to educate families on such issues as financial aid, and resources outside of the home. Many colleges are participating in innovative recruitment and orientation efforts to include Latino students and their families. It is important that Latino students keep forging ahead; to keep seeking out ways to obtain a higher education, and this means including their parents in the process.
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