Gustavo A. Mellander
A new academic year has begun. And although nobody knows for sure, the actual number of Hispanics enrolled at our colleges will be, I predict, another bumper crop.
Changes are occurring. As Eileen Patten noted in a Pew salary study, “Large racial and gender wage gaps in the U.S. remain.”
White men, measured by hourly wages, no longer earn the most. That distinction belongs to Asian men at $24 an hour. White men receive $21 an hour, blacks $15 and Hispanics $14.
College-educated black and Hispanic men earn around 80 percent the hourly wages of white college educated men. College-educated Asian men earned $35 per hour, more than white, college-educated men ($32).
White and Asian college-educated women also earn roughly 80 percent the hourly wages of white college-educated men. Conversely, black and Hispanic women with a college degree earn only about 70 percent the hourly wages of similarly educated white men.
Rewards of higher education
The wage differentials among ethnic groups is closely correlated to their educational attainments. To wit, among male adults 25 and older, 23 percent of blacks and 15 percent of Hispanics have a bachelor’s degree or higher versus 36 percent for whites and a very high 53 percent for Asian men.
Wage gaps also exist by gender. College-educated black and Hispanic men and white and Asian women earn roughly 80 percent the hourly wages of white college educated men.
Hispanic population trends
On the positive side, Hispanics have not lost faith in the value of higher education even though many of them have been swindled by disreputable institutions in recent years. Unfortunately, even reputable institutions continue to churn out graduates for jobs that do not exist. There is an ingrained disconnect, which affects all population segments.
The surge of Hispanic students on our campuses will continue to increase. The number of Hispanics in the general population has grown exponentially in the last forty years. Many were recent immigrants, but many are native-born citizens. All seeking to achieve the American dream.
To be specific, Hispanics numbered 14.8 million in 1980 a mere 6.5 percent of the nation’s population. Now there are over 55 million Hispanics accounting for nearly 18 percent of the nation’s inhabitants. That percentage will continue to grow in the years ahead.
Placed in another perspective, since 1960, the nation’s Hispanic population has increased nearly nine fold from 6.3 million in 1960 to 55 million in 2013. The federal government projects 119 million by 2060. The Hispanic share of the U.S. population in that year is expected to reach nearly 30 percent.
Reasons for past and continued population growth
Basically, in one word: turmoil. Scholars believe the probability of continued disorder as in decades past in much of Latin American will not abate. Further, the magnet of better opportunities here will continue to attract hundreds of thousands. These economic and political ramifications will change America.
The record is clear, Hispanics from other counties have increased more than 20 times over the past half century. It exploded from less than one million immigrants in 1960 to almost 19.3 million today. During the same time period, the native-born Hispanic population increased only six fold. Today, there are nearly 30 million more U.S.-born Hispanics in the U.S. (35.0 million) than there were in 1960 (5.5 million).
The challenge for higher education
Ambitious as they are, Hispanics will continue to come to America one way or the other. The challenge for higher education is to serve that great mass of people as it has other segments of the population. Hopefully, since we are better educated and have learned from our mistakes, we will do a better job than in the past.
I still fear that too many people continue to graduate without the skills and training they need to secure that first job and build a career. I agree we should go to college to be educated and not just be trained; colleges are not vocational schools. But a happy medium, which offers employment opportunities upon graduation and a broad based education, has to be crafted.
Pink collar careers
Yes, I don’t like the term either. But it describes pretty accurately the professions most Hispanics enter. They are the service professions. They are worthy, noble and needed professions. Many Hispanics have entered the middle class by becoming nurses, teachers, counselors, etc. But I am suggesting, once again, as we start this new academic year that we encourage more Hispanic youngsters to aim higher, to become medical doctors, business executives, university professors and administrators, lawyers and accountants – in short, aim for the highest tier.
We have a golden opportunity. As mentioned before significant federal, state and foundation funding is presently available for students majoring in the so-called STEM professions.
A decade ago, President George H. Bush spearheaded the movement to provide student scholarships and funding to colleges for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics majors at undergraduate and graduate levels. Unfortunately, very few Hispanic students have availed themselves of those opportunities.
I suggest we make a concerted effort to recruit more Hispanics into these fields. It’s not easy for far too many Hispanics have not majored in those areas in high school and thus arrive ill prepared to compete in college in those fields.
Actually, high school is too late as well. Parents and elementary schools must do more to encourage elementary school children to develop interests in STEM topics. Children’s innate curiosity can be nurtured. We have all had highly motivated Asians in our classes. What sets them apart from many is the intense interest their parents have in their education – an interesting model to emulate.
We should encourage boards of education to encourage more field trips, science fairs, enriched curricula and summer school opportunities to introduce students early on to STEM professions.
The raw material exists in young Hispanic minds waiting to be developed. Funding opportunities are available to train and motivate Hispanics. We need national leadership focused on STEM professions. Mano a la obra! •