Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Latinas Face Special Challenges on Path to College

Young Latinas constantly hear the message in school that earning a college degree is important. Then why do so many believe that it’s not an attainable goal for themselves? I delved into this issue in an article for Education Week‘s recent “Diplomas Count” report.

There can never be one answer to such a complex problem, though economic and cultural factors certainly play a role. A 2009 study by the National Women’s Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund outlined some of the biggest issues.

The “Listening to Latinas” study found that many Hispanic girls assume caregiver roles in their extended families–either for other children or elderly relatives–and that can make it more challenging for them to reach their educational goals. Loyalty to supporting the family can affect the decisions they make when deciding the direction of their own lives.

For my EdWeek story, I spoke with Celina Cardenas, a community relations coordinator in the Richardson Independent School District outside of Dallas. She mentors Hispanic girls who are wrestling with what to do after high school. She mentioned that girls may be reluctant to move out of their parents’ home to attend college in another city.

“It’s kind of like you’re born with responsibility—especially the girls,” she said. ”Doing something on your own may not sit very comfortably with them because they may not want to let anyone down. I talk to them a lot about not feeling selfish that they’re disappointing their family by going away, and understanding there’s nothing wrong with having those goals.”

The MALDEF study also highlighted that Hispanic girls as a group also are more likely to struggle with poverty, depression and high teen pregnancy rates.

Statistics show that while Latinas are faring better than Latino males, they are not doing as well as black or white women in college attainment. According to an analysis by Richard Fry of the Pew Hispanic Center of 2011 Census survey data, about 17 percent of Hispanic women ages 25 to 29 have at least a bachelor’s degrees, compared with about 10 percent of Hispanic males, 43 percent of white females and 23 percent of black females in that age bracket.

Search for the local community groups in your region that are trying to help girls in your area. For the Education Week story, I followed  the Dallas chapter of the national non-profit group Girls Inc. as they led a large group of girls on daily college tours over spring break. I also visited the Alley’s House organization in Dallas, which empowers teen mothers by helping them get an education. And the nonprofit Texas-based  online magazine Latinitas gives Hispanic girls a venue to write and have their voices heard.