Latinas Still Struggling to Manage Education and Family Demands

Howdo Latinas who grow up with a strong familismo cultural orientation balance their sense of family obligations with a desire for higher education, especially when they are facing the rigors of a doctoral program? “These women are caught between the demands of two cultures and have to deal with all of the conflict and tensions they experience from the pressure of fulfilling multiple and often competing roles,” writes Dr. Roberta Espinoza, assistant professor of sociology, California State University-Fullerton (CSUF), in her recent study, The Good Daughter Dilemma: Latinas Managing Family and School Demands.

Dr. Roberta Espinoza, Assistant Professor of Sociology, California State University-Fullerton

Dr. Roberta Espinoza, Assistant Professor of Sociology, California State University-Fullerton

Espinoza interviewed a cohort of Latina doctoral students to find out what strategies the women used to maintain family relationships and their status as a “good daughter” while handling the substantial workload of graduate school. The question intrigued Espinoza, who says there has been documentation about barriers Latinas face within the public education system, such as attending poor, overcrowded schools and not having access to advanced courses and good teachers, but not enough investigation into the influence of home and family experiences.
Although it has been shown that Latinas enroll in college at the same rates as their non-Latina counterparts (60 percent), they are less likely to earn college degrees and go on to graduate or professional school. As Espinoza points out, only a small number of Latinas finish at the very top level of the educational ladder, thus constituting a fraction of the percentage of Ph.D. degrees that are conferred annually by the nation’s universities. In 2006, only 5.4 percent of female doctoral recipients in the United States were earned by Latinas, up slightly from 4.1 per-cent a decade ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With so few Latinas successfully navigating the educational pipeline into doctoral education, it is extremely important to understand their personal experiences and strategies for academic success, says Espinoza.
“We know that many Latinas in college mention their connections to family as a key component to their academic success, but those connections can conflict with school demands,” she said.
Her findings indicate that Latina doctoral students balance their school and family life in two different ways. On one hand, there are the integrators, those who manage family expectations and obligations by explicitly communicating with family members about their school responsibilities.
“The integrators blend family and school by first explaining the nature of their school demands, then enlisting their family’s support to enhance their academic success,” writes Espinoza. She offers the examples of Veronica, Dolores and Anna, who used the integrator strategy to manage family expectations concerning holiday and weekend visits or care of siblings. All three women chose to explain the nature of their school demands to their parents as a means of negotiating compromises and enlisting support for their educational endeavors.

The second group of doctoral students consists of the separators, who actively organize their daily lives to keep family and school separate in order to minimize tension and conflict.
“Although the separators prioritize family similar to their integrator counterparts, they often feel they have to keep their schooling experiences separate to protect their relationships with family members,” said Espinoza. As examples, the study describes Rosa, Celia and Luciana, who chose to maintain a divide between their academic and personal life. These women found ways to meet family obligations, such as being home for birthdays or helping siblings, by compartmentalizing and separating demands, thus minimizing or avoiding cultural conflicts.
Espinoza is one of several researchers to examine the clash between values and culture that Latina women experience as they forge their identities as women and scholars. In 1996, Rosa María Gill and Carmen Inoa Vázquez, two psychotherapists, published The Maria Paradox: How Latinas Can Merge Old World Traditions with New World Self-Esteem. They described how marianismo, modeled on the Catholic Virgin Mary and focusing on purity and passivity, defines the traditional roles of Hispanic women and often prevents them from seeking professional advancement through education and successful careers. The book contained practical suggestions to help Latinas build their self-esteem and redefine roles while integrating the positive aspects of Hispanic home culture with new and more modern beliefs.

Other experts describe how many Latinas become bicultural and modify their behaviors and actions in order to coexist in new and old cultures. By embracing elements of both cultures, Latinas are able to assert themselves in the world of higher education but also retain their interdependence and connections with family. Espinoza’s study draws on Chicana feminist theory regarding multiple identities that women assume over time. Essentially, scholars such as Gloria Anzaldúa have described the “new mestiza” model adopted by Chicanas who experience the process of conflicting and meshing with two cultures. Anzaldúa drew on her own experiences growing up in South Texas and working on a farm near the Mexico/Texas border.
It appears that the current generation of Latinas is benefiting from the voices of earlier scholars and researchers as younger Latinas modulate their roles in today’s society.
“My research illuminates that gender roles for Latinas are definitely changing and women are active agents in redefining those roles,” said Espinoza. “For women pursuing higher education, being a good daughter is constantly renegotiated with family as women make their way through the educational pipeline. The different strategies they employ demonstrate how they are choosing to balance family obligations with school in a way that is aligned with how they see their role as Latina daughters.”
Not only are Latinas finding new paths to empowerment, but they also are paving the way for their siblings by breaking new ground in their families. Espinoza says many of the women she interviewed acknowledged that part of being a good daughter was tied to being a role model for younger brothers, sisters, cousins and nieces/nephews.
“These women clearly are trailblazers in their families,” she said. “They expressed that their families counted on them to talk to younger family members about the importance of doing well in school and going to college. The fact that these women’s families expected them to excel in school contradicts the literature that often attributes Latinas low academic achievement to a culture that does not value school success.”
Although this study centered on female doctoral students, Espinoza’s previous research has focused on broader issues in which she examined the role of social and cultural capital in the educational advancement and success of first-generation college students. Before joining CSUF, she worked at various research institutes, including the University of California (UC)-Berkeley Center for Working Families; the University of California-Los Angeles Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST); the National Institute of Psychiatry (social sciences division) in Mexico City, Mexico; and the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute. Espinoza received a doctorate in sociology from UC-Berkeley in 2007. As might be expected, her own pathway to a Ph.D. echoes many of the experiences of her study participants.
“The good daughter dilemma of balancing family and school hits very close to home for me,” she said. “I grew up in a poor, single-parent family with my Mexican father. My family was on welfare most of my life, which was a very humbling experience. Although it was clear doing well in school was my first priority growing up, I still had many family responsibilities, such as cleaning the house, paying bills and filling out government paperwork.”
As the first generation in her family to attend college and earn a Ph.D., Espinoza knows how important parental support is in achieving educational goals.
“Although my dad only had a third-grade education, he always encouraged me and my sister to do well in school,” she said. “We grew up hearing that we need to earn a college degree because ‘no one can ever take away your education.’ My dad was very proud of our academic accomplishments and never failed to attend events where we received awards.”
Hispanic men can play a key role in helping young Latinas reach their goals. Fortunately, says Espinoza, the old machismo values are changing among fathers, brothers and husbands. She sees the changes in her classes at CSUF.
“I think the stereotypical ‘macho’ gender role that has been attributed to Latino men is a thing of the past,” said Espinoza. “Young Latino men today are more progressive and are less likely to subscribe to traditional gender roles.
“Many of the women I interviewed were encouraged and supported by fathers, brothers, uncles, boyfriends and domestic partners to excel in school. This finding shows that Latino men embrace the changing role of women as strong and educated. Latino men also seem to have a more egalitarian view of gender roles in both relationships and families. This is why we are seeing increasing numbers of Latinas in leadership positions and at the forefront of activism and social change in their communities.”
But colleges and universities also need to take steps to ensure that Latinas are getting the support they need to persist and succeed in getting advanced degrees. Research has shown that Latinas often are not prepared for the differences between undergraduate and graduate school, especially the increased amount of work and expectations of faculty. On the other hand, Latinas are disappointed when faculty members show no understanding of their history or culture.
Espinoza’s study contains two recommendations that could ease family-school dilemmas still faced by many Latinas. She calls for increased communication to Latina students and more formalized efforts to educate faculty and staff about these challenges. The final section of her study suggests that universities should improve their outreach efforts to inform Latina students of the various support services available to them even before they start graduate school.
“It is imperative that they [Latinas] are immediately connected with supportive organizations, educators and peers that can help them adjust to their new school environment,” she writes. “Institutions and departments need to be proactive in providing Latinas with information and experiences that make them feel a sense of belonging and connectedness to their new academic homes. These efforts will greatly diminish the balancing act that Latinas engage in, thus freeing them to better engage in school and their departments.”
In addition, Espinoza says faculty who work closely with Latina students should attend informational workshops that highlight the challenges Latinas face when entering the university. She believes that as educational agents, professors need to understand the positive impact they can have as academic role models by helping Latinas through the various hurdles of graduate school while simultaneously legitimating their familismo.
“Faculty members often overlook having a life outside of school, which alienates students who have other obligations and responsibilities outside the university,” she said.
These recommendations, plus those that have called for more mentoring of Latinas through what has been dubbed “the politics of graduate school,” could go a long way in helping Latinas through the personal and professional obstacles encountered in doctoral programs. Espinoza sees hopeful signs that institutions are starting to pay attention to the educational adjustment and overall well-being of Latinas in higher education.
“I think universities, especially Hispanic-Serving Institutions, are starting to create out-reach and support programs that meet the needs of Latina students,” said Espinoza. “Implementing these programs is of critical importance since Latinas are going to college at higher rates than their male counterparts.”

Student-Created Courses Become Part of Academic Experience

Student-created courses, in which students take charge of learning experiences and organize their own syllabi and seminars, have joined the menu of options on several college campuses. With technology providing new ways of delivering content, and self-directed learning becoming more popular, it is no surprise that colleges are responding by incorporating student-designed learning experiences into the academic mix. While some of these courses can be taken for credit, others are offered just for the sake of learning. Either way, those involved say it gives students an opportunity to share their passion for and knowledge of subjects outside the traditional curriculum.

Student-Created Courses Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine

“Students have a chance to fill in perceived gaps in the standard univer-sity curriculum,” said McKenna Freese, one of the student co-directors of Cavalier Education, a student-initiated course program at the University of Virginia (U.Va.). “It thus provides one more avenue for students to actively participate in the life and governance of the university.”
U.Va. takes pride in its longstanding tradition and commitment to stu-dent self-governance. Students can initiate courses by proposing classes that go through a formal approval process or by recommending Flash sem-inars, which are single-event discussions of one topic.
The impetus began about five years ago when Emily Ewell, then presi-dent of the U.Va. Engineering Student Council, came up with an idea for a credit course that would allow students to hear different professors speak each week on a variety of subjects. As a university guide, she had taken a class that features several renowned professors and wanted to give other students the same opportunity. With the help of some friends, Ewell gath-ered recommendations about professors with whom students wished they could take a course and then invited each of those faculty members to par-ticipate in one class module during the semester.
“The idea was to try to get U.Va.’s best professors together and let them showcase themselves to a diverse group of students,” she said when the course was launched.
The course, which featured professors from the sciences to humanities, was designated LASE 360 because it showed students 360 degrees of the uni-versity. After going through the approval process, the class was offered for registration and filled up with 100 students. The course still runs today.
Since then, students have kept the momentum going and continued the tradition of designing their own courses. This year, some 18 propos-als were submitted for review and approval. According to Marian Anderfuren, director of U.Va.’s media relations, proposals are fairly lengthy and must be completed with the guidance of a professor. They also must include a course descrip-tion, curriculum, budget and assigned readings. All proposals are then reviewed by two deans in the College of Arts & Sciences.
“The credits for these classes are not considered academic credits but are counted as nonacademic cred-its, much like a phys ed class,” said Anderfuren. 

Laura Nelson, student and force behind the Flash seminars

Laura Nelson, student and force behind the Flash seminars

Courses offered last semester included “American Conservatism in the Twentieth Century,” “Living Art History: An Introduction to Art Business and Contemporary Art Markets” and “The West Wing: Where Hollywood Fantasy and Reality Collide.”
The student-initiated courses now run under the banner of Cavalier Education and are coordinated by Freese and Hannah Beller under the auspices of the Academic Affairs Committee of the Student Council. As co-directors, their responsibilities include fielding questions by e-mail, reviewing applications, coordinating with the deans and working with the Teaching Resource Center.
As Freese explains, once a class is approved, it is run entirely by the student-initiators, not the faculty sponsors.

“Either the student-initiators teach it themselves, or they organize a series of faculty lectures from various professors,” she said. “For example, one class brought in a series of psychology professors to talk about their research. Courses might integrate aspects of both of those options.”
This semester, Freese says, there are eight “fantastic” courses being taught by 13 undergraduate student-teachers. Among them are “Inspiration, Muse and Genesis,” “Advocacy and the Judicial System” and “Introduction to Cryptology.”
Cavalier Education has just inaugurated the Pedagogy Seminar, a two-hour, biweekly course that student-teachers attend to investigate and improve their own teaching skills.
“Aside from enhancing their teaching experience, the seminar also provides an opportunity for the student-teachers to receive one credit for teaching the course, whereas in the past this was not possible,” she said.
Freese says the Cavalier Education program requires students to make a serious commitment when proposing a course. The process of designing a syllabus, getting faculty support and estimating a budget is one that requires careful thought and planning. But allowing students to step into this arena meets two important goals: that of enriching the education expe-rience and ensuring the university’s principle of student self-governance.
“We feel the notion of students taking charge of their education to the point of actually creating and teaching their own classes is an extension of the ideal, honored at the university, of student self-governance,” she said. “It is one that allows them to truly govern their own education.

Rafael C. Alvarado, Professor, Associate Director of SHANTI

Rafael C. Alvarado, Professor, Associate Director of SHANTI

Learning in a Flash

But U.Va. student-created courses are moving beyond traditional struc-ture and taking advantage of new technology. This year has brought the cre-ation of Flash seminars, in which faculty and students come together outside the classroom for discussions on topics beyond the normal course content.
The Flash seminar takes its name from the phenomena of flash mobs, in which groups of people assemble suddenly in a public place for a brief time for a spontaneous event. The mobs are organized using cell phones, text messaging and social-networking sites such as Facebook. Flash mobs in various cities have gathered to stage spontaneous pillow fights, choral performances and political protests. U.Va. students have taken the concept, added more structure, and provided an opportunity for students and facul-ty to share knowledge in a more informal setting. The seminars are announced one to two weeks ahead of time and are open to students, fac-ulty and community members.
Laura Nelson, a 22-year-old fourth-year political and social thought major and one of the driving forces behind the Flash seminars, explained how the idea was born.
“Some of us [students] were sitting around and having conversations about U.Va. and the whole academic experience,” she said. “We began to talk about how the spaces we learn in do not have to be compartmental-ized, that learning can take place outside the classroom. We started think-ing about doing something creative and inventive, and that was when the possibility of Flash seminars came about.”
Nelson then went to work on making the concept a reality. She said the process involved creating a fairly simple technological infrastructure. A website and e-mail components were created to support the publicity and sign-up aspects of Flash seminars.
Last fall was the first semester for Flash seminars. Topics included: “Liberal Arts in the Era of Late Capitalism,” “Can Buildings be Carbon Neutral, and Should They?” and “There is Much to be Angry About: Are We an Apathetic Generation?”
“The faculty can teach on any subject that excites them,” said Nelson. “We want to get people to learn and discuss things.”
Topics for the current semester were developed using the same impromptu process and included offbeat topics such as “Could a Poem or a Song Save a Life?” and “Unpacking Kill Bill.”
Nelson says the courses fill up fast. So fast, in fact, that sometimes there is a waiting list for one of the 15 or 25 slots available for each seminar.
“We keep enrollments down because that’s what makes the experi-ence special,” said Nelson. “The University of Virginia is a public college, and it’s hard to find a class that is smaller than 40, so we deliberately keep it small.”
Faculty members have been enthusiastic about participating. It gives them an opportunity to teach about a topic of personal interest to an audience of diverse students who come together to listen and learn, rather than get a grade or earn credits toward their degree.
The students take part, says Nelson, because the seminars give them exposure to top faculty members who are often from outside their major and a chance to engage with fellow students interested in vigorous discus-sions. Sometimes participants include other faculty members who are eager to enjoy the expertise of their colleagues. All in all, it is a very stimu-lating atmosphere.
“There’s an intellectual energy in the seminar,” said Nelson. “Something happens when you get all of these smart and curious people from different disciplines in a room.”
Dr. Rafael C. Alvarado, professor and associate director of SHANTI (Sciences, Humanities, and Arts Network of Technological Initiatives), is typical of those faculty members who have conducted a Flash seminar. Alvarado teaches and lectures on the anthropology and ethnography of computing.

“I got involved in the Flash seminar at the request of one of my stu-dents,” he said. “I came up with the topic based on a lecture on Big Data I gave for the course which my student found interesting. I also wanted to develop the topic into an article.”
Alvarado’s seminar was titled “Is the Superorganic Made of Silicon?: Rethinking the Culture Concept in the Internet Age.” That might sound a little intimidating to those who don’t speak the language of technology, but it is based on Alvarado’s scholarship on the computer as “core metaphor, con-tested tool, and central artifact in the investigation of postmodern culture.”
“One of the most profound historical consequences of the Internet has been the emergence of the cultural datasphere,” he explained. “Each day, millions of Web users unwittingly contribute masses of information about human behavior and taste to the databases of Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, Amazon and other sites. These data suggest the possibility of a new kind of social science in which the concept of culture is both revital-ized and challenged.”
Alvardo considers the notion of the “cultural datasphere” as having sig-nificance as an object of anthropological study.
“My research question is to determine the relationship between the concretization of culture and culture itself,” he said. “Among my concerns is to find out if it is empowering or alienating, transformative or destructive to being human.”
Alvardo plans to spin off the results of his seminar conversation into the development of an anthropology course, “The Internet is Another Country,” to be taught next fall. He said the Flash seminar was an exam-ple of how humanities courses should be taught – as student-generated conversations around a topic initially presented by the professor. There was no PowerPoint or any other technological device, he said, just a great discussion.
“The students were amazing, showing genuine interest and keen insight into the topics,” he said. “One area we ended up in was discussing the relationship between memory and narrative, and the effects of database culture (a side effect of the Web) on selfhood, given the close connection between self and memory.”
That outcome is no surprise to Nelson, who says that students and fac-ulty often come away with the feeling that a certain “spark” permeates the seminars.
“Students write thank-you notes to the professors and will often say the seminar was one of the most provocative and interesting things they have experienced at U.Va.,” she said.

Universities Make Progress in Diversifying Graduate Schools, but Obstacles Remain

Many graduate schools have stepped up recruitment and retention efforts to diversify enrollment, and their initiatives have paid off. The most current statistics from the Council of Graduate Schools show that representation of minority groups, including American Indians, Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics, has risen to 29.1 percent of first-time graduate students. Hispanics, who repre-sent 16 percent of the population, comprised 9.1 percent of enrollment.
But at some institutions, the goal of increasing the racial mix of graduate students has fallen short, especially at elite colleges, which often have rates hovering around 4 percent. These schools face unique challenges as they try to attract minorities to campuses with small communities of color. Public universities also face obstacles because they must adhere to court decisions that have limited or barred public institutions from considering race or ethnicity in evaluating applicants.

Dr. Janet Rutledge, Vice Provost, Dean of the Graduate School, University of Maryland-Baltimore County

Dr. Janet Rutledge, Vice Provost,
Dean of the Graduate School,
University of Maryland-Baltimore County

Professor Rick Cherwitz, Director, IE Consortium, University of Texas-Austin

Professor Rick Cherwitz, Director, IE
Consortium, University of Texas-Austin

Dr. Karen Jackson-Weaver, a Princeton Alumna, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Diversity at the Graduate School’s Office of Diversity

Dr. Karen Jackson-Weaver, a Princeton Alumna,
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Diversity
at the Graduate School’s Office of Diversity

As Hispanics and other minorities become an increasing segment of the population and move through the educational pipeline, the need to diversify graduate education remains critical. Two questions that dominate the discussion are: how have some institutions managed to succeed in increasing minority participation while others have floundered? Moreover, what are some of the elements of successful programs and can they be replicated at other institutions?
Dr. Daryl Chubin, director of the Capacity Center at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, who has given workshops on strategies for diversifying graduate schools, defines several elements of the most effective programs.
At the top of his list is the importance of cre-ating a climate of community. This can be done by integrating students into research teams and creating support groups as a means of combating the feeling of isolation and separateness often felt by minority graduate students. He also believes faculty members play an important role in recruitment and are key players in helping students persist toward their master’s and doc-toral degrees. When Chubin conducted research among minority Ph.D. candidates about barriers to diversity, the responses highlighted the impor-tance of faculty intervention to keep minority students in graduate programs.
“Gender and racial bias is a reality,” said one student. “To get over it, faculty mentoring helps.”
Achieving racial diversity usually requires a multifaceted approach with many variables, including faculty, administrators and institutional policies and programs, all of which can affect outcomes. Here is a look at how three universi-ties are increasing minority enrollment in gradu-ate schools.

University of Texas-Austin

The strategy to diversify at graduate studies at the University of Texas-Austin has been enhanced by the Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) Pre-Graduate School Internship Program. IE enables undergraduate students to work closely with a graduate student mentor or faculty supervisor to create an internship experience aimed at explor-ing postbaccalaureate opportunities in their field of study. The program is one initiative of the uni-versity’s Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium, a collaboration of 11 colleges and schools with the objective of educating “citizen-scholars.” Latino students make up the largest group of interns in the program, with more than half of them subse-quently enrolling in graduate school.
The IE Consortium is part of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and is directed by Professor Rick Cherwitz of the department of communication studies.
“The internship is a course that undergradu-ate students take, but it is not like physics 301,” said Cherwitz. “It focuses on the student and what their passions and interests are and what challenges they face as they navigate the univer-sity. It is an entrepreneurial incubator.”
Cherwitz says that each student enrolled in the program begins by finding a faculty or grad-uate student mentor. Then, they write up a con-tract describing the kinds of activities they will engage in as part of the course. For example, an IE student might shadow the graduate mentor by going to classes and attending departmental col-loquia and professional conferences. IE student enrollment is drawn from many different disci-plines, including science, mathematics, art, humanities, and medical and law school.
“We are literally showing them in a very explicit and safe way, through their mentors and their shared experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly of graduate school,” said Cherwitz. “They get to see the politics of the academy.
“This is extremely important for first genera-tions and underrepresented minority students. We know these students are smart enough, and they know they are smart enough to succeed. But they don’t know the rules of game, so we are leveling the playing field.”
Abraham Pena, who is now pursuing a doc-torate in sociology at Florida State, did an IE internship in 2008 that, he said, helped him learn the fundamental components of a graduate school education. Although he began the intern-ship as an education major, he switched to soci-ology when he discovered it was his true inter-est. In addition, he gained many practical skills that were invaluable as he considered applying to grad school.
“Had I not had the opportunity to participate in IE, I would be completely oblivious to the graduate school application process,” he said. “The whole process is one that takes time and dedication to understand. For minority students, it becomes a battlefield where they must learn the rules to acculturate and be successful.”
The IE program has been called one of the best models of diversity in the country, although it is designed to serve all students. Since 2003, nearly 1,000 undergraduates have participated, and approximately 50 percent of those students have gone on to graduate studies at schools such as Princeton, Illinois, Penn, Duke, Brandeis and Louisiana State University. In 2010, there were 250 students enrolled.
Three years ago, the IE program was selected as the top Example of Excelencia (excellence) at the graduate level by Excelencia in Education, an organization that works to accelerate success in higher education for Latino students.
But is IE transportable to other colleges? Can it be duplicated in some form that might help diversify other graduate schools?
“Yes,” said Cherwitz. “IE is not a one-size-fits-all program. It is more of a philosophy of education that helps us increase diversity. We collaborate with other colleges for a way to take IE to them and make it work for their students.”

Princeton University 

Princeton’s efforts to diversify its graduate schools could best be described as “a work in progress.” The university has mounted aggres-sive programs to increase the number of under-represented and socioeconomically disadvan-taged students and has made some progress; however, Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans account for only 5 percent of the first-time graduate school enrollment.
Princeton’s history and location have present-ed more challenges to diversifying than those of other universities. It was founded as an all-male private school and is located in a relatively small town, compared to larger, urban universities which often can attract students from surround-ing diverse neighborhoods. Once enrolled in Princeton, minority students can feel a sense of isolation because the campus and town demo-graphics still are predominately White.
Dr. Karen Jackson-Weaver, a Princeton alum-na, was hired in 2007 as associate dean for acad-emic affairs and diversity at the graduate school’s Office of Diversity. She has implemented several new initiatives, such as Preview Day, which gives prospective minority graduate students a chance to visit campus and meet faculty and current stu-dents. Other programs include the Princeton Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (PSURE), which is an opportunity for 20 under-graduates who are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. to prepare applications to doctoral programs. Students work with a Princeton faculty member as a research assistant or an advisee in editing and writing research papers. There are weekly sessions about applying to graduate schools and for financial aid as well as general discussions about academic life and the graduate level.
Jessica Brown, program manager in the diversity office, says outreach to minorities includes an extensive recruiting schedule with visits to Hispanic-Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“We also hold a number of open houses and campus visits where prospective students meet with faculty and learn about graduate student life at Princeton,” she said.
The presence of high-visibility minority facul-ty such as Cornell West, Toni Morrison, Marta Tienda and Patricia Fernández-Kelly has helped boost Princeton’s image as a welcoming commu-nity. Overall, the university faculty is 9 percent African-American and 8 percent Hispanic. In addition, graduate students have formed support groups such as the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus and the Graduate Women of Color Caucus.
Daniel Polk is the current co-president of the Latino Graduate Student Association and is typical of those who come to Princeton from very different environments. He was raised in Southern California and graduated summa cum laude from the University of California-Riverside. He is currently a third-year doctoral student in anthropology at Princeton.
“Daniel often helps us in our recruiting efforts,” said Brown. “He is a good ambassador for the university.”
Princeton’s efforts have resulted in a greater number of minority applicants. In 2010, the university received 371 applications to graduate school from Hispanics, up from 256 in 2006. However, the number of Hispanic applicants actually accepted declined from 16 percent to 11 percent during that same time period.

Students from the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Citizen Scholars group at the University of Texas

Students from the Intellectual
Entrepreneurship Citizen Scholars
group at the University of Texas

University of Maryland-Baltimore County 

The pride of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County’s (UMBC) initiatives to pro-mote graduate school inclusiveness is the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which has been at the forefront to increase diversity among those who study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It has centered on giving students tools for academic and personal suc-cess that will prepare them for the rigors of advanced study in STEM doctoral programs. Nationally, dropout rates run as high as 50 per-cent for minorities and women in STEM fields.
Dr. Janet Rutledge, vice provost and dean of the graduate school at UMBC, says the program has been successful because it promotes the val-ues of academic success, self-confidence, life bal-ance and professional development for students.
“We say that the Meyerhoff program pro-duces super students,” said Rutledge. “This means they are so well prepared that they can go into any graduate program and succeed.”
The success rate is enviable. Since 1993, the program has graduated 600 students. More than 150 alumni have earned a Ph.D. or M.D., and an additional 85 have earned graduate degrees in engi-neering. There are nearly 300 alumni currently attending graduate or professional degree pro-grams. In the 2010-11 academic year, there are 230 students enrolled as Meyerhoff scholars, of which 56 percent are African-American and/or Hispanic.
The program has been described as one that changes the perception about minority achieve-ment because it increases the expectations of stu-dents who participate and the faculty who teach them. By all accounts, these students are excep-tional, with many earning 4.0 grade point averages and becoming members of Phi Beta Kappa.
Meyerhoff scholar Carla Valenzuela studied biological science at UMBC before going on to a graduate program in neuroscience at Vanderbilt University. She hopes to conduct research on the potential of stem cells to serve as therapeutic tools for neurodegenerative disorders. She cred-its the Meyerhoff program and an additional Goldwater scholarship as “motivators” that pushed her to work harder and to envision being a leader in her field.
One important aspect of the Meyerhoff schol-ar program is that it does not function in isola-tion; instead, it has been integrated into the fab-ric of university academics. It uses the most pro-ductive research faculty as mentors, retains an advisory board from various departments and reports directly to the provost’s office.
“The university as a whole serves as a mentor to shepherd each student,” said Rutledge.
When Rutledge describes the Meyerhoff pro-gram at conferences and workshops, she speaks of “lessons learned” that other universities might want to be mindful of in diversifying graduate programs. One of those lessons is the recogni-tion that underrepresented minorities and women students are especially vulnerable. Rutledge encourages leaders at graduate schools who want to increase minority participation to put into place programs and services that foster engagement and minimize marginalization.
“Minorities and women need to develop con-fidence to face academic adversity,” she said. “The literature shows that when they get to grad-uate school and face a setback, they often blame themselves for not being good enough or smart enough to be there. We fortify them to be more sure of themselves.”
Meyerhoff scholars also develop a strong sense of community, one that stays with them even when they move on to different graduate schools.
“Our students retain their Meyerhoff net-work, even when they go to other places to study,” said Rutledge. “They keep in touch with their cohort, and it helps prevent a feeling of iso-lation if they find themselves in a graduate pro-gram with less support and few minorities.”
It is no surprise to find that UMBC has repli-cated its success at the graduate level. The uni-versity boasts a Meyerhoff Graduate Fellows Program with an equally impressive track record of achievement. Approximately 79 percent of students who have participated as fellows have been retained in or completed the Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. program with an average time to degree of five to six years.

Community Schools Seek to Improve High School Achievement and College to Improve High SchoolAchievement and College Readiness

It isn’t often that teachers’ unions, politicians and advocacy groups agree on a concept for improving schools, but that is exactly what has happened in the case of the Coalition for Community Schools.

The coalition, an alliance of more than 150 national, state and local organizations, is working to bring public schools in partnership with community resources in order to improve student success. While that might seem like an abstract idea, it has very concrete goals, such as boosting high school graduation rates and college readiness. The idea has been endorsed by the Obama administration, the National Governors Association, National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and proactive groups such as the National Council of La Raza.

Through its Community Agenda for America’s Public Schools, the coalition is focused on improving the lives and achievement rates of struggling youth while also providing services to families. It does so by involving a broad range of community-based education, health, social service, higher education, and parent-focused organizations in the work of educating young people.

Martin J. Blank, Director of the Coalition for Community Schools and President of the Institute for Educational Leadership

Martin J. Blank, Director of the Coalition for Community Schools and President of the Institute for Educational Leadership

Specifically, it means that when students come to school for classes,they also have access to dental or medical care at an on-site health clinic. After school, they might take music or dance lessons or have tutoring sessions. Their parents can take advantage of job-training work-shops or attend programs concerning school curriculum, teaching methods or local issues, such as drugs and gangs. Community high schools often partner with local colleges to strengthen college-prep curricula and encourage a “college-going attitude.”

“There is no better way to involve families and the community in the work of educating our youth than the community school strategy,” said Martin J. Blank, director of the Coalition for Community Schools and president of the Institute for Educational Leadership. “They are built on five pillars: strong early childhood development experiences, comprehensive services for students and their families, after school and other extended learning opportunities, deep parent and community involvement, and an engaging, real-world curriculum.”

For many educators, this holistic approach is welcome news in an era in which talk about improving schools has focused on test scores and teacher accountability. NEA, a partner with the coalition, says community schools can help reduce the demand on school staff members who deal with all the challenges students bring to school.

“In the current era of testing,labeling and punishing public schools, the Community Agenda for America’s Public Schools is like a breath of fresh air,” said Dennis Van Roekel, NEA president. “We need an improved strategy for public schools, one that moves away from a schools-only, test-based approach under the federal No Child Left Behind Act to an integrated and comprehensive approach that treats schools as centers of the community– open to everyone.”

Randi Weingarten, president of AFT, has echoed Roekel’s support,saying that “teachers can’t do it all”and that community schools address critical factors such as poverty and stability at home that research shows affect two-thirds of student outcomes.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has made it clear that communities and families play a critical role in making decisions about school turnaround.

“Turning around a struggling school is hard, hard work,” he said in a speech to the NAACP. “The work must be shaped at the local level with all of the stakeholders at the table.”

Public Schools as Hubs

The basic rationale for building community schools is fairly straightforward. It is based on the premise that students in many neighborhoods need a wide range of support systems to address factors such as difficult family circumstances, poverty and health problems. Research shows that students often come to school with emotional and physical needs that can affect academic achievement and pose challenges for public schools,which are under-resourced. By fostering community development and community engagement, coalition leaders believe that schools can improve student learning, strengthen families and build healthier communities.

“Those who advocate for community schools believe that the present emphasis on academics by No Child Left Behind is too narrow an approach to public education,” said Blank. “We believe that schools, together with their communities, must work to fulfill the condition of learning necessary for every child to succeed.”

In order for this to happen, coalition leaders say, schools need to become centers of the community that are open to everyone – all day,every day, evenings and weekends. If public schools will reach outside their walls, they will tap into a variety of partners and services to deal with societal issues that prevent students from learning, says Blank.

The coalition has outlined four broad outcomes for community schools to ensure that students graduate high school and are ready for college, careers and citizenship:Children are ready to learn when they enter school and every day thereafter.All students learn and achieve to high standards; young people are well prepared for adult roles in the work-place, as parents and as citizens; families and neighborhoods are safe,supportive and engaged; and parents and community members are involved with the school and their own lifelong learning.

Models of Community Schools

Community schools exist in 49 states and the District of Columbia.In Chicago, home to the largest community schools initiative in the nation, the 150 participating schools already have made substantial strides in decreasing student absences, raising test scores and improving graduation rates.

Part of the strategy for success and closing the achievement gap involves reducing health care disparities. These programs draw on studies showing healthier students are better learners and that underserved communities can benefit from a system that brings health care to students where they are – in school.

For example, the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) operates 22 community schools in New York City in partnership with the New York City Board of Education. Many, but not all, are located in poorer districts in and around Washington Heights, Harlem and the South Bronx. Students from these neighborhoods often face poverty, lack of health care, and other crises that create physical and mental health issues. Teenage pregnancy rates are high.

Richard Negron, Director, CAS Community Schools

Richard Negron, Director, CAS Community Schools

To address these needs, the Children’s Aid Society operates five school-based health centers in its Manhattan community schools as well as two licensed mental health clinics in CAS Community Schools in the Bronx.

Adria Cruz, CAS School Health Services Manager, says that by bringing a team of nurse practitioners,physicians, social workers, psychiatrists and dentists to the school building, Children’s Aid eliminates barriers to health care and provides an environment in which students and their parents can become better health care consumers.

“This access allows parents and children to develop a different type of relationship with the health care establishment,” she said. “They are comfortable enough to ask questions of their physicians, and less apprehensive about medical, mental and dental health care.”

Cruz says services offered by the school-based health centers include complete physical exams, immunizations, laboratory tests, acute care (asthma, diabetes, etc.), first aid, reproductive health, counseling and mental health services and dental care.

The services yield results for both learners and teachers.

“Because students in Children’s Aid community schools receive high-quality services right in the schools, they arrive in classes ready to learn, and teachers feel freer to teach,” said Richard Negron, director of CAS community schools. “Children’s Aid community schools show better student and teacher attendance, less grade retention, better test scores and better parent involvement than similar schools.”

A recent research brief states that students participating in CAS after-school programs from 2004 to 2007 scored significantly higher on their standardized math tests than students in other city schools. The community schools posted higher attendance rates than the city average.

Negron says community schools also are producing better results at the high school level. He cites as examples the Theater Arts Production.

Smaller cities also are adopting the community school model. Tukwila, Wash., south of Seattle, has five community schools that serve a large population of foreign-language-speaking and recent immigrant families. Some of the students who enroll in the district’s Foster High School have had no formal education.

Art Show 2010

Art Show 2010

Through a number of initiatives, the schools have created a climate that incorporates cultural diversity while providing the extra academic support students need. There are cultural cooking classes, as well as music and dance exhibitions from various countries. Volunteer tutors from the University of Washington help students with homework and academic skills. The staff members of the Tukwila Community Schools Collaboration(TCSC) have developed liaisons to improve communication between the parents and the school, particularly for Hispanic and Somali-speaking families. Workshops for parents are held on student discipline, attendance and gang activity.

As a result, the TCSC on-time gradation rate has increased annually since 2002, and the rate of absence in middle and high school has dropped. Foster High School’s on-time graduation rate has recently risen to 74.4 percent, and its extended graduation rate was 82.5 percent, which is several points higher than the state average.

Marty Blank says Tukwila is just one example of how the community school concept is taking hold in many areas of the country that are facing changing demographics due to immigration and migration of various groups, including Hispanics.

hispanic outlook jobs in higher education

“One of the reasons for the rise of this strategy is that the student population everywhere is becoming more diverse,” he said. “For example, there are several thousand Muslims in Fargo, N.D., and administrators there realize they need support to help schools adjust to the cultural differences these students bring to the community.”

Company (TAPCO) High School in the South Bronx, Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics in East Harlem, and Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the South Bronx. All of these schools are located in high-poverty neighborhoods where risk factors are prevalent. All receive comprehensive CAS services.

“TAPCO was recently named the top-rated New York City high school, in large part because nearly 94 percent of its students graduated this past year and they were accepted into top-rated colleges,” he said.“Additionally, 99 percent of freshmen earned enough credits last year to be on track to graduate Manhattan Center for Science and Math. Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School also produced a significant number of students who graduated within four years.”

Negron credits college-readiness efforts at the three schools with leveling the playing field and helping students navigate high school.

“We provide consistent support and direction around high school success and college applications, from helping with the college essay to hosting financial aid and college fairs,” he said. “We even provide financial support for college trips when needed and emergency assistance to students who may need to purchase clothes for that all-important interview.”

In recognition of their success, full-service schools were part of New York City’s successful Race to the Top application, signaling state support for the strategy. The Obama administration has cited Children’s Aid Society and community schools as an evidence-based reform strategy and is considering making it part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Still, there are those who say that community schools resemble a“nanny state” and that the whole idea is too complex to sustain meaningful change. Others suggest that all of these services and programs are a distracter from the core work of academics.

“Community schools support strong academics and good teachers,”said Blank. “But we are deeply concerned that the curriculum is too narrow and needs to address real-world issues, not just test scores.”

First Look at Common Core State Standards Shows Minorities Lagging

Hispanics and other minorities have more ground to make up than their White counterparts if they are to meet the common core academic standards now adopted by more than 40 states and scheduled to be fully implemented in the 2014-15 school year. A new report, released by ACT (American College Testing) Inc., aimed at assisting states as they begin transitioning to the Common Core State Standards, shows that Hispanics and African- Americans are lagging in most college and career-readiness benchmarks.

“These results indicate that we must begin immediately to strengthen teaching and learning in all areas of the common core with particular focus on raising college and career-readiness rates of African-American, Hispanic and other underserved students,” states the report. Titled A First Look at the Common Core and College and Career Readiness, the research report uses ACT data to show where high school students currently stand when measured against the recommended core skills in reading, writing and mathematics. The snapshot presented in the report is not a pretty picture. At this point, only one-third to one-half of the nation’s 11th-graders have the skills deemed necessary to be successful in entry-level jobs or to take college-level courses.

Education Division ACT

The research also shows that minorities are not performing as well as White students. For example, in understanding fundamental mathematical practices related to making sense of problems and persevering in solving them, only 19 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of African-Americans meet the standards as opposed to 42 percent of the Caucasian sample.

But officials hope the report will be seen as an opportunity to close the gaps in the next three years, before actual assessment of the standards begins. To this end, the report also provides recommendations for local educators and state and federal policymakers that could help states moving from adoption to implementation of the common standards. Most observers say states have extensive work to do.

“If states are to be successful in raising the expectations for what students should know and be able to do by the end of high school, it is important for them to understand their students’ level of college and career readiness today,” said Cynthia B. Schmeiser, president and COO, Education Division, ACT Inc. “This report is our first attempt to provide states with the best data and information available so they can make informed education policy and practice decisions moving forward.” Schmeiser calls the new core standards one of the most significant educational reforms in recent history.

Because ACT played a role in developing the standards, the company decided to “open the books” and provide as much real data as possible to give states a starting point for realigning curricula and providing teachers with professional development tools to help students succeed.

“We have got to get students through the education pipeline and get them ready for work and college,” said Schmeiser. “This report gives educators a place to start as they face the question: What can we do to get our students ready?”

The report analyzed the test results of more than 250,000 11th-grade students who were administered select forms of the ACT exam relevant to the new standards, as part of states’ 2010 annual testing programs. The students were not self-selected, as is the case for those who take college admissions exams. They also span a range of abilities and college aspirations, are from a variety of communities and schools, and include those tested under standard conditions and accommodations. In essence, say ACT officials, the students in this report are a typical representation of students in high schools around the country.

The report provides data to answer basic questions, including:

• What is the best estimate of current student performance across the various domains, strands and clusters of the Common Core Standards?
• What are students’ overall current strengths and weaknesses on the standards, and how do these data break down among ethnic subgroups that were measured in the sample?

The report’s last section makes recommendations urging state and district leaders to begin targeted instructional strategies to support student learning in four key areas of the Common Core State Standards: text complexity, language and vocabulary acquisition, number and quantity, and mathematical practices.

“The results of this study suggest that far too many of today’s students will graduate from high school unprepared for college-level work or career-training programs without some type of remediation in English-language arts or mathematics,” said Schmeiser.

Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which has been coordinating the common core initiative, agrees that schools need to develop new strategies. “We can’t reach our goals by doing things the way we have been doing them,” he said “We have got to figure out what needs to be done and redeploy our resources.”

One of the areas the ACT report singles out for attention is students’ ability to read and understand complex text. Relative to the common core, only 31 percent of all students and 18 percent of Hispanics are performing at a college and careerready level in understanding complex text. This is especially true in science, where an even lower percentage of all students, 24 percent, are able to read, write or communicate in the language of scientific disciplines.

“We aren’t just talking about print textbooks,” said Wilhoit. “We need students to be able to work with information in all kinds of media and in different formats, such as maps, diagrams and other primary sources.”

The ACT report suggests that more emphasis must be placed on language and vocabulary development. Specifically, recommendations call for measures to ensure students are reading progressively more complex texts as they advance through grades. And, as the core standards state, students need to develop sufficient literacy skills, including vocabulary that is common to history, science and technical subjects. To do this, teachers must use their own subject-area expertise to help students learn to communicate effectively in these fields. In other words, there is a shared responsibility for students’ literacy development. “Teaching the English language is not just the domain of English teachers,” said Scott Montgomery, ACT assistant vice president, who has been involved in the project.

When it comes to mathematics, the results indicate more intensive work must be done in mastering the foundations of mathematics. Only 34 percent of students performed competently in the category of number and quantity, which are the skills used to understand the meaning of numbers, operations, and arithmetic expression and to use that understanding to solve problems and reason about mathematics. For Hispanic and African- American students, 16 percent and 10 percent performed competently compared to 42 percent of their White counterparts.

“Students need more work with ‘hands-on’ mathematics,” said Wilhoit. “They need to develop that foundation in the early grades so they can go on to more complex mathematical processes.”

What’s Next?
Given the weaknesses identified in the report, the authors offer several courses of action to help classroom teachers, educational administrators and policymakers who want to use the next three years to improve student performance.

“The period between Common Core adoption and Common Core implementation offers an important opportunity to evaluate and reframe education policy and practice at all levels,” states the report.

Perhaps the most important recommendations involve the front lines, which are the teachers who will have primary responsibility for moving students to the performance levels outlined in the core standards.


The report strongly encourages districts to provide teachers with the support and curricular tools that will help them meet these challenges. However, with funding for education stagnating and even declining in some states, it won’t be easy. “I do not foresee more resources coming from state and federal government,” said Wilhoit. “This means we have to come up with strategies and tools that might not exist yet.”

The report suggests teachers will have to have access to model lessons and instructional units aligned to the standards. But it does not mean telling them how to teach, said Wilhoit.

“Although setting standards for what students need to know is perfectly appropriate, we have to give teachers flexibility and creativity in the classroom,” he said.

Looking beyond the classroom, the report encourages states to get ready for the shift to standards and prepare for the changes that will occur over the next few years. This means embracing the challenge of “clearer, higher standards,” helping communities understand them, and improving accountability systems. All of this needs to be done with an eye toward reframing what students and schools are expected to accomplish, especially since states currently set and define their own proficiency levels. “This is a baseline study that raises some important issues for policy-makers at the state level,” said Wilhoit.

Some worry that rather than step up to the challenge, states will be tempted to undercut the new standards. If the current gaps in core mandates and student performance are left unaddressed, states and districts might be encouraged to adopt weaker definitions of college and career readiness, says the report.

Instead, both Wilhoit and Schmeiser say states need to act by getting “a leg up” and moving forward before the common assessment begins in the 2014-15 school year. And even though ACT says its findings are instructive, they caution that the analysis only measures student readiness before any attempt has been made to teach to the new standards. That is precisely why officials believe the study is a good place to start. “We feel the states can help these students now,” said Wilhoit.

Still, there are those skeptics who say the new standards and subsequent assessment will be a “bonanza” for testing companies such as ACT, which played a critical role in development of the common core.


But Schmeiser says ACT actions were based on what it felt was a responsibility to share in the process of creating the standards and to provide information that would shed light on current achievement gaps. ACT has released related reports, such as Mind the Gaps: How College Readiness Narrows Achievement Gaps in College Success, which concludes that underrepresented minority and lower-income students will be better prepared for postsecondary success through a rigorous high school curriculum and better educational and career planning. Schmeiser says these types of studies can be a factor in reducing inequities by identifying critical steps that will maximize success for all students.

“The bottom line is that we believe that one of the roles of our organization is to provide data to help the schools,” she said. “We are sharing the data and the research that states can use in the next three years to begin reforms to help students perform better.”

More Women Trustees on College Boards – but Far from Equal Representation

Women now represent the majority of undergraduate students at colleges and universities, but in the boardrooms, trustee membership is still dominated by men. Several recent studies have looked at patterns regarding the appointment of female trustees, their role on the board and whether or not gender matters as boards grapple with policy.

A 2010 study by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges reports that men outnumbered women by more than 2-to-1 on governing boards of both independent and public four-year institutions. The overall statistics show that women comprise only 29.9 percent of board members at public and private institutions, with 18.5 percent serving as chair. At community colleges, women are represented in greater numbers than on university boards. A 2009 Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) survey revealed that 66 percent of trustees are male and 34 percent are female.

The road to becoming a community college trustee is varied. A slim majority, 53 percent, are appointed by their state’s governor. But in other cases, the board consists of a combination of appointed and elected trustees.

When it comes to the politics of trustee appointments and factors that influence the decision to appoint female versus male trustees, at least one study shows that states with larger shares of female legislators have higher probabilities of appointing and confirming female trustees to a board. Additionally, if the governor is a Democrat, he or she is 6 percent or 7 percent more likely to appoint a female trustee.

Mirinda Martin, a Cornell University Ph.D. candidate who published the study last year, said, “when a governor is appointing a trustee, it is a fairly visible way to appoint a woman to a leadership position where that decision will not encounter much resistance.”

Does Gender Matter?

Last year, researchers at the Cornell University Higher Education Research Institute (CHERI) issued a study concluding that the gender composition of college leaders, including trustees, does matter.

The study, Do Trustees and Administrators Matter? Diversifying the Faculty Across Gender Lines, looked at the period from 1981 to 2007, a time when the percentage of female trustees increased from 20 percent to 31 percent. The goals of the survey were to document trends in the gender of board members and leaders and to learn whether gender composition influences the appointment of chancellors, presidents and chief academic officers. In addition, the study examined whether the gender composition of board leaders and members and key academic administrators influences the rate at which academic institutions are diversifying their faculty.

“We found that institutions with female presidents and female provosts and those with a greater share of female trustees did increase their share of female faculty at more rapid rates,” said Ronald Ehrenberg, director of CHERI.

As might be expected, the report shows the magnitude of the impact of women leaders is greatest at smaller institutions. In addition, the study cautions that a critical share of female trustees, which has been defined as 25 percent, must be reached before gender composition leads to change. 

For this issue, The Hispanic Outlook profiles five trustees who have helped make inroads into female representation and leadership on college and university boards of trustees.

Sylvia Scott

Sylvia Scott-Hayes
Los Angeles Community College District

An educator and community activist, Sylvia Scott-Hayes was first elected to the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) Board of Trustees in 1999 and subsequently was the first Latina to become its president. She served three terms as president of the board, leading the district through tremendous growth. The district now has nine colleges enrolling more than 140,000 students. The student body is 51 percent Latino. It is the connection to students that has been most meaningful to Scott-Hayes.

“I have been most impacted by getting to know and hear so many personal stories of our diverse students,” she said. “Our classrooms are filled with students who are here with strong support of family and friends, and many others are here in spite of not having that kind of support. Yet all are working on their futures.”

Under Scott-Hayes’ leadership, the board adopted a nationally recognized environmental
sustainability building policy for which it received the prestigious Green Cross Millennium Award from Global Green USA, for its leadership in launching an extensive program to transform the Los Angeles community colleges into energyefficient, sustainable campuses.

Scott-Hayes still serves as an LACCD trustee and currently chairs the board’s planning and student success committee, which ensures the colleges are meeting accreditation standards. She says she has truly enjoyed being a policymaker for a district that impacts the lives of so many people.

“As an immigrant, it has been very rewarding to have had the platform and a strong voice in calling for the improvement and strengthening of student support programs,” she said, adding that she is especially proud of the bond measures that allocated funds for upgrading the facilities and grounds of the LACCD campuses.

“I believe our students deserve beautiful facilities to pursue their educational dreams,” she said.

Scott-Hayes has been honored by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, for her steadfast mission to increase the number of students transferring to four-year institutions, by establishment of a scholarship in her name. She has received the Community Service Award from the National Chicano Health Organization, Outstanding Service Award from the Hispanic Women’s Health Organization, Visionary Leadership Award from the Los Angeles Women’s Appointment Collaboration, and Outstanding Women Award of California State University-Los Angeles. Scott-Hayes received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in urban education from California State University-Los Angeles, and, in addition, engaged in doctoral coursework in politics at Claremont Graduate University.

Miriam López
Claudia Puig
Florida International University

Miriam Lopez

Located in Miami, Florida International University (FIU) is a four-year public research university with an enrollment of more than 40,000, making it one of the 25 largest universities in the nation. It awards more bachelor’s and master’s degrees to Hispanics than any other institution. It also has the distinction of having two Hispanic women serve on its 13-member board of trustees.

One is Miriam López, president and chief lending officer at Marquis Bank, a position she has held since August 2010. Prior to this, López spent 25 years at TransAtlantic Bank serving as president and CEO for 18 years. She was chair of the American Bankers Association Community Council from 1999-2000 and president of the Florida Bankers Association from 2000-01.

A FIU trustee since 2001, López says she enjoys being able to interact with the community of students as well as have a direct impact on their education.

“I really like participating in commencement ceremonies.” she said. “It is great to see the enthusiasm and to know that many of our future leaders are sitting in this arena with me.” López is a member of several community organizations, including the Doctors Hospital board of directors, and the Mercy Hospital Foundation board of directors. She also is a mentor in local public schools, where she is an advocate for education.

“I explain how I came to this country with very little and the same held true for my parents and that you can overcome difficulties and still follow your dreams,” she said. “I stress that the one thing that can never be taken away is your education.”

López graduated from Barry University with a bachelor’s degree in education and attended graduate school at the University of Miami and also received a certificate in business administration with an emphasis in accounting.

Claudia Puig

Claudia Puig has been a trustee since 2003. She is senior vice president/southeastern regional manager of Univision Radio, which owns some of the top-rated Spanish-language radio stations in Miami.

A Cuban native, Puig began her work experience in advertising and sales with BellSouth.

Prior to her current position, she was vice president and then VP/general manager of Spanish Broadcasting Systems in Miami. In recognition of her experience as a broadcast executive, President George W. Bush appointed her to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 2003. She also is a board member of the City of Miami Arts and Entertainment Council.

Puig has been inducted into the Hall of Fame of Miami Dade College.

Rita DiMartino
City University of New York

Rita DiMartino

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Rita DiMartino to the City University of New York (CUNY) Board of Trustees in 2003, he cited her “extraordinary record of corporate experience and her status as an esteemed member of the Hispanic community and nationally recognized expert on Hispanic affairs.”

DiMartino worked for AT&T for 25 years, starting in the area of college relations, in which she interacted with various higher education institutions, and represented AT&T at many national higher education conferences. She rose to the position of vice president of Congressional Relations for AT&T, involving her in AT&T’s interactions with the administration, Congress and with state governments.

A CUNY graduate from the College of Staten Island, DiMartino said she considered the opportunity to be a trustee as the chance to “pay back my alma mater for the quality of education I received.” She also holds an M.P.A. from Long Island University (C. W. Post Center).

DiMartino received several presidential appointments, including one from President Ronald Reagan, who named her ambassador to the UNICEF Executive Board in 1982, and another from President George H. W. Bush to the USO World Board of Governors in 1992. In 2005, DiMartino was appointed by Secretary Elaine Chao to the U.S. Department of Labor National Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships and served on the Commission on Federal Election Reform. She has also served on 12 International ElectoralObservation Missions. She has received numerous awards and honors, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York State Federation of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce. 

DiMartino is chairman of the board of Bronx- Lebanon Hospital, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Ana G. Méndez University System, and the advisory board of the Inter-American Foundation. She has previously served on the board of trustees of Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry.

Being a trustee for CUNY entails overseeing one of the largest urban universities in the United States, with more than 260,000 credit students. The City University of New York is composed of more than 23 colleges and institutions, including community colleges, senior colleges, a technical college, graduate school, law school and a medical school.

Varsovia Fernandez

Varsovia Fernández
Community College of Philadelphia

Varsovia Fernández, vice chair of the board of trustees at Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), said that her belief in giving back to the community was instilled during her upbringing in the Dominican Republic. As a young girl, she watched her parents volunteer with the Dominican Republic Red Cross as the country transitioned from a dictatorship to a democracy. “My parents made many people’s lives better by their example,” she said in a broadcast on National Public Radio. “I hoped that some day I, too, would be able to do such great things for people with fewer resources.”

Today Fernández is president and chief executive officer of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GPHCC), which she joined in 2006. Her decision to join the chamber followed years of working in the profit sector, which made her realize that Philadelphia’s corporate community needed to become more diverse and that she could help Hispanic businesses.

During her tenure, the chamber achieved record levels of membership, revenues and member-driven activities. Fernández launched GPHCC’s Professional Mentoring Network, a work force development initiative to help Hispanic professionals connect with executives and with Hispanic youth. Under her leadership, the chamber has created a voice for Hispanic business in the region by developing a programmatic strategy that builds on the small business, professional and corporate Hispanic markets.

Prior to GPHCC, Fernández worked with Congreso de Latinos Unidos as vice president of External Affairs.

At CCP, Fernández is part of a 15-member group of diverse leaders from the city’s legal, financial, economic and pharmaceutical sectors.

The college has 70 degree programs and enrolls approximately 39,000 students in credit and noncredit courses. Women comprise 67 percent of the student body, which is 10 percent Hispanic.

Fernández is committed to philanthropic and civic endeavors and serves on the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperative Authority and Philadelphia’s Zoning Code Commission.

She attended Temple University and graduated from Rosemont College.

Analysts Predict Major Transformation in Higher Education

Is higher education the next bubble to burst? With college enrollment and costs soaring to all-time highs, critics say there is too little access to affordable education and too many students who are racking up big debts while finding it harder to land jobs when they graduate. To some, it is obvious the current economics of higher education cannot continue.

“Although nine out of 10 high school seniors aspire to go to college, almosthalf of U.S. college students drop out, outstanding student loan debt exceeds $730 billion, and tuition and fees rose 248 percent between 1990 and 2008, more than any other major commodity or service in the last 20 years,” writes Anya

Anya Kamenetz

Kamenetz, author of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. Kamenetz compares the unprecedented levels of federal and private student loan debt to the mortgage bubble.

“Spending on college is out of control, and the cost curve is not coming down,” she said. Kamenetz is one of several analysts who have examined higher education trends and concluded the time has come for serious reform. And while not everyone agrees on how colleges and universities will change, most observers cite economics and technology as the two forces that will drive reforms, especially in public higher education.

Those who predict the most radical changes in postsecondary education compare the coming shift to the music industry, where new delivery systems have made the cost cheaper and content more accessible.

“Technology will drive a decentralized college experience,” writes Kamenetz. “Learning will become more self-directed, with people having a greater ability to create their own learning experiences within and outside institutions.”

The decentralized model involves students identifying their own goals and finding ways to achieve them by devising personalized courses of studies and taking advantage of online courses that are available for less than in-person classes and in some cases, are free. There are now thousands of video and podcast lectures available through the OpenCourseWare Consortium Academic Earth and YouTube.

“The future lies in personal learning networks and paths, learning that blends experiential and digital approaches, and free and open-source educational models,” said Kamenetz.

Referring to this concept as a “do-it-yourself education,” Kamenetz says that students will increasingly decide what, when, where, and with whom they will learn, which will also include “learning by doing.”

If that sounds improbable, consider the mounting public concern about higher education costs. While 55 percent of Americans still believe that college is essential for success in the workplace, they also are becoming increasingly skeptical about the way colleges are conducting their financial affairs.

Last year, a report from Public Agenda and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that six out of 10 Americans believe that colleges mainly care about their own bottom lines instead of making sure that students have a good educational experience. The report, Squeeze Play 2010, summarizes findings of a survey of public attitudes about college affordability and accessibility that has been conducted since 1993. This time, an overwhelming number of respondents, 83 percent, said students have to borrow too much money to pay for higher education.

“The ‘misery index’ when it comes to higher education is climbing – Americans are discovering that they can’t live without higher education, but they increasingly can’t live with skyrocketing prices and reduced access,” said John Immerwahr, senior research fellow at Public Agenda.

According to the survey, the perception that colleges are focusing more on dollars and cents than on students’ educational needs has intensified during the recession, jumping eight points in just two years. At the same time, Americans remain skeptical that colleges and universities are doing everything they can to keep costs down. In general, a majority of Americans believe that colleges could take in more students without hiking prices or reducing quality, and more than half (54 percent) agree that colleges could spend less and still maintain quality education for students.

“Americans have put a lot of faith and a lot of money in their colleges and universities, but they’re increasingly disappointed in higher education’s choices and performance,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center. “People are looking for innovation and productivity improvements in higher education, and they’re just not seeing them. Even in a time of budget cuts, the public is not buying the argument that the only alternative available to colleges and universities is higher tuition.”

Others have voiced even stronger criticism of the costs of higher education.

Charles Miller, who was once chairperson of the board of regents at the University of Texas and also served as chairman of the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education in 2005, has called the financial system in higher education “dysfunctional.”

“There is a lack of transparency about pricing. Colleges seem to look only at optimizing revenues,” he said at a Cato Institute seminar titled “Ivory Tower Overhaul: How to Fix American Higher Education.”

Miller said there needs to be more transparency about financing and expenditures and a larger sense of return on investment of public monies that flow into higher education.

“A major transformation is coming because of global competitiveness, powerful technological developments and a restrain on finances that will impose limitations and force changes in productivity,” he said.

Three-Year Degrees and Alternatives to College

The pressure to make college more affordable has some pushing to make the three-year degree a new standard.

Last May, an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, written by professors Stephen Trachtenberg and Gerald Kauvar of George Washington University, called the current college experience “idyllic but also wasteful and expensive, both for students and institutions.” Citing the current situation, in which demand is outstripping capacity and is combined with soaring costs, they called for cutting the undergraduate experience to three years to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation’s colleges.

Public Concern

“There is simply no reason undergraduate degrees can’t be finished in three years, and
many reasons they should be,” they wrote.

They called switching from four to three years a simple matter of altering calendars and adding a few more faculty members and staff.

“Three-year curriculums, which might involve two full summers of study with short breaks between terms, would increase the number of students who can be accommodated during a four-year period, and reduce institutional costs per student,” they explained. “While there would be costs for the additional teachers and staff, those would be offset by an increase in tuition revenue.”

Not only would the change mean that colleges could use their buildings year round, but it might bring about curriculum innovation as content is condensed into the shorter time frame.

Robert Zemsky, author of Making Reform Work: The Case for Transforming American Higher Education, is also a proponent of the three-year degree. In one article, he wrote that it “would immediately address complaints about high tuition, reducing by 25 percent the price of an undergraduate education. The longer-term and more important benefit would be revitalizing of college curricula and faculty teaching.”

Like his counterparts, Zemsky believes that technology will play a role in transforming the structure of learning in higher ed, moving students toward a model that lets them “study what they need when they need it.” He points out that subjects like calculus can be taught through the use of computerized learning programs, and therefore colleges would be able to shift the amount of “seat time” required to earn a degree.

“Certain subjects such as mathematics, foreign languages and writing can be taught through the use of technology, including tutorials and online coaching,” said Zemsky, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. “We also know that learning in these disciplines can be measured, and therefore the whole time to degree process can be more concentrated.”

There is some evidence that colleges are taking a serious look at three-year degree plans. The University of North Carolina-Greensboro (UNCG) has a Web page devoted to this option and promotes it to incoming students as a chance to “Focus on your future in 3D and graduate in 3 at UNCG.” Last fall, the Rhode Island Legislature passed a bill that would allow students at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island to have the option of completing their degree in three years. Other universities in Washington and Georgia are adopting the concept.

Robert Zemsky

But Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, says that the three-year degree is no “silver bullet” and will only benefit a small number of students who are capable of meeting the demands of studying on a compressed timetable.

While not opposed to the three-year option, Schneider says it is important that these programs do not reduce the total number of credits required to obtain a bachelor’s degree, and that the existing programs do not short-circuit the full array of essential learning outcomes those credits represent.

“Employers are asking for more knowledge and skill, not less,” she said, citing global competency, internships and teamwork skills that have been added to the list of desirable educational outcomes.

“While the pressure to graduate more students at a time of ever-decreasing resources is acute, we do a disservice to individual students and our society if we confer degrees that do not assure that students have learned all they need to know in this very demanding global century,” she said.

But while the dialogue on three-year degrees continues, others are suggesting that maybe no degree at all should be considered as an option. These individuals suggest that it might be time to reconsider the premise that America needs more college graduates. Instead, they posit that college is not for everyone and many students would be better off if they had more options for vocational training outside the college setting.

One of the most vocal proponents of this option is Richard Vedder, professor of economics at Ohio University, who questions the common argument that college graduates are more productive and earn more.

“Forty-five percent of people who go to four-year colleges don’t get a bachelor’s degree within six years. Those people often have met with disappointment, and their investment isn’t particularly good, necessarily,” he said during an interview on National Public Radio. “Another group of people graduate from college and then have trouble getting jobs and end up taking jobs for which a college education is not really a prerequisite. Twelve percent of the mail carriers in the United States today have college degrees. And I have nothing against mail carriers with college degrees, but I don’t think it’s an absolute necessity to have a college degree to deliver the mail.”

Many faculty members would agree, especially since they struggle with students who need remediation and are woefully unprepared to do college-level work. There also is a sense that college degrees are now being required for jobs, such as administrative assistants, that in the past would have been filled by those with a high school diploma. Vedder, who also serves as director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says the reality is that we might be entering an era in which there are a diminishing number of jobs for college graduates.

“I think some kids are going to college that probably shouldn’t go to college,” he said. “While I applaud the principle behind President Obama’s objective of getting everyone some postsecondary education, in reality there are a lot of jobs out there that are being created or that exist that are not jobs that require college education. We are moving increasingly in the direction of having fewer and fewer jobs available that really require a college education relative to the number of students that are graduating.”

College Enrollment for 18- to 24-Year-Olds Hits All-Time High

Almost 40 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States are enrolled in college, a record number, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The trend is being driven by several factors, including low rates of employment in this age group. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a smaller share of 16- to 24-year-olds was employed in September 2009 – 46.1 percent – than at any time since the government began collecting such data in 1948.

But the spike in college enrollment is also due to some positive trends. The increasing share of 18- to 24-year-olds comes at a time when a record proportion of young adults has completed high school, either by regular high school graduation or passing an equivalency test. According to Census Bureau figures, in October 2008, almost 85 percent of 18- to 24- year-olds had completed high school, an all-time high for this basic measure of educational attainment, up from 75.5 percent in 1967. “We have the biggest pool of young adults we’ve ever had who’ve finished high school,” said Dr. Richard Fry, senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center and author of the analysis. “This means that more youths than ever before were eligible to attend college.” And while enrollments have been rising for decades at both two- and four-year schools, this latest increase has taken place almost entirely at two-year colleges.

Community Colleges Fuel the Surge

Community colleges across the country experienced major enrollment increases last year. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) stated that the recession had a “dramatic and unforeseen impact on enrollments,” which grew an overall 16.9 percent from 2007 to 2009 and a whopping 24.1 percent in full-time students during that same two-year period. Although 2009 figures are not finalized, AACC staff members have been analyzing headcounts and making estimates based on numbers submitted by hundreds of two-year colleges.

Christopher Mullin, AACC director for policy analysis, and Kent Phillippe, AACC director of research, said that as the recession caused traditional- age college students to re-examine their options, community colleges became more desirable.

“The limited fiscal resources of previously financially secure families positioned community colleges as a viable option due to comparably lower tuition and fees,” they wrote in a December 2009 policy brief titled Community College Enrollment Surge: An Analysis of Estimated Fall 2009 Headcount Enrollments at Community Colleges.

Latest figures from the College Board confirm that community colleges are less expensive than four-year institutions. They average $6,750 per year (including tuition, fees and room and board) in the net price for full-time students, compared with $9,800 for four-year public colleges and $21,240 for four-year private colleges.

College enrollment

In some ways, the enrollment surge mirrors trends of the past. Historically, community college enrollments have long been considered somewhat countercyclical; that is, they tend to rise as the economy worsens. By all accounts, this recession has driven unemployment rates to their highest levels in 25 years, leading many students to show up for last-minute registration at their local community college. Other students found they could not be accommodated at public four-year colleges because these institutions had experienced severe budget cuts and capped enrollments.

But Phillippe and Mullin also see the increases as the result of aggressive two-year college marketing and advertising campaigns that have been successful in highlighting institutional quality and general awareness of campus offerings. Honors programs, dual-enrollment partnerships with high schools, and unprecedented attention from politicians, who have praised the colleges for their role in work force training, have put community colleges in the spotlight. As a result, the sector has experienced steady growth. In October 2007, approximately 3.1 million young adults, or 10.9 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds, were enrolled in a community college. A year later, that figure had risen to 3.4 million students, or 11.8 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds. By contrast, enrollments at four-year colleges were essentially flat from 2007 to 2008.

The AACC report notes that the Rocky Mountain states – Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming – experienced the largest percentage increase in enrollment of community college students. For example, press reports show that enrollment at Colorado’s Front Range Community College was up approximately 26 percent last year.

Hispanics See Gains

The Pew analysis reports that, by 2008, more Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds completed high school than ever before.

“About 70 percent of young Hispanics have finished high school either by graduating with a diploma or getting a GED,” said Fry. “This indicates that Hispanics, like other groups, are expanding their base of those who are eligible to attend college.”

In other positive news, the Hispanic high school dropout rate among 18- to 24-year-olds continued its downward march. In 2008, 22 percent of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds were high school dropouts, the lowest rate on record. Previous studies released by the Pew Hispanic Center have looked beyond the overall numbers and found that Hispanics born in the U.S. have lower dropout rates than Hispanic immigrants of their age group. The dropout rate for second-generation Hispanic youths in the U.S. is 8.5 percent, a figure roughly equivalent to young adults of all races.

The sheer numbers of Hispanics enrolled in college has continued to climb, but the percentage has remained relatively stable. About 26 percent of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in college in 2008. This level did not surpass the 2007 young Hispanic college-enrollment rate and trailed the White young college-enrollment rate by nearly 15 percentage points, a figure that continues to trouble many who are working to close that gap. Further studies have provided analysis based on the subcategories of U.S.-born Hispanic youth versus those who are immigrants.

“When it comes to enrolling in college, some Latinos are not so far behind their White counterparts,” said Fry. “About 46 percent of White 16- to 24-year-old high school grads are enrolled in college. In comparison, 29 percent of Hispanic foreign-born 16- to 24-year-old high school grads are in college, but 43 percent of Hispanic native-born 16- to 24-year-old high school grads are in college. So the native-born are behind in enrollment, but not way behind.”

However, the gap in college completion is one in which both foreign-born and native-born Hispanics lag behind their White counterparts. Fry reports that about 37 percent of White 25- to 29-year-olds have at least a bachelor’s degree while the comparable figures for foreign-born Hispanics and native-born are 9 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

“Where young Hispanics really trail is not in pursuing college, but finishing college, as in getting the bachelor’s degree,” he said.

Among other racial and ethnic groups, trends show that 2008 college enrollment among 18- to 24-year-old African-Americans remained relatively unchanged at 32 percent, but the high school dropout rate was slightly higher than in 2007.

According to the Pew report, White youths attained several educational milestones in 2008 with nearly 41 percent of White 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college. In addition, there were fewer White high school dropouts than ever before. The White high school dropout rate reached an all-time low of less than 9 percent in 2008.

College Enrollment by Gender

It has been widely documented that women represent the majority of 18- to 24-year-olds attending college. As of October 2008, women comprised 53 percent of all young college students. However, as Pew research shows, men have logged some gains, and although the gender trend has not reversed, the percentage of 18- to 24-year-old men enrolled in college reached an all-time high in October 2008 (37.0 percent).

High School Drop Out

Fry explains in the report that for many years young men’s college participation had remained below the 35.2 percent level reached in 1969 during the height of the Vietnam War, when many male students extended their education because they wanted to hang on to their student deferment from the military draft. Not until October 2005 did college enrollment among young men surpass the October 1969 level. It has kept rising since then.

By contrast, although more 18- to 24-year-old women were enrolled in college than their male counterparts, the percentage of young females enrolling in college has remained at slightly more than 42 percent for the last three years.

The High School Completion Factor

Although many would like to see an increase in the rate of college attendance among those who have finished high school, Fry says statistically, this is not the case.

“Effectively, a record high proportion of youths are in college because the base of young high school completers is at an all-time high, not because college enrollment among high schooleducated youth has increased,” he writes.

In fact, the measured college-enrollment rate of 18- to 24-year-old high school completers was 46.7 percent in 2008, slightly below the peak attained for this measure in 2005 (46.9 percent).

Community College Enrollment

With President Obama and organizations such as the Lumina Foundation mounting programs to produce more college graduates, this is not necessarily welcome news. However, experts say that they are hoping to see a rise in degreecompletion rates for those who do enter college. And the numbers of students applying to and entering two- and four-year colleges are projected to continue to tick upward.

The Pew report stops short of making any predictions about enrollment trends. It does end with the suggestion that, although college enrollment figures for 2009 are still being finalized, all indications are that enrollment levels for 18- to 24-year-olds continued into 2009, with the possibility that another record high will be reported.

StudentLoanJustice.Org Fights for Change as Default Rates Increase

The default rate on student loans is rising, and the numbers have set off debates about the cost of higher education and lending practices at some institutions. One advocacy group,
StudentLoanJustice.Org, says that the problem is a result of “predatory, uncompetitive laws” that do not give students standard consumer protections available in other loan markets.

“The student loan industry is the most profitable, uncompetitive, oppressive and predatory kind of debt of any in the nation,” said Alan Collinge, founder of StudentLoanJustice.Org.

While not everyone agrees with that assessment, the default rates have gained considerable national attention as a result of a report last summer by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) saying that several forprofit schools “encouraged fraud and engaged in deceptive marketing practices.”

Increasing Default Rates
Although default rates across all sectors of higher education have climbed to 7 percent, the biggest rise has occurred at for-profit schools, which now stand at more than 11 percent. The 2010 national cohort rates are based on 2008 figures because the Department of Education (ED) measures those who default in the first two years of repayment. Compared to 2007 data, figures showed an increase from 5.9 percent to 6 percent for public institutions, from 3.7 percent to 4 percent for private institutions, and from 11 percent to 11.6 percent for for-profit schools.

Although officials expected some increase because of the recession and job losses, there is particular concern over the for-profit sector, which is a popular higher education destination for many minorities. These data confirm “what we already know: that many students are struggling to pay back their student loans during very difficult economic times,” said U.S.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in releasing the figures. “The data also tell us that students attending for-profit schools are the most likely to default,” he added. “While for-profit schools have profited and prospered thanks to federal dollars, some of their students have not. Far too many for-profit schools are saddling students with debt they cannot afford in
exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use. This is a disservice to students and taxpayers and undermines the valuable work being done by the for-profit education industry as a whole.”

As part of his latest call to action, Alan Collinge has written a book, The Student Loan Scam, which covers the history of student loans and the rise of Sallie Mae and other powerful student loan companies.

The ED reports that in award year 2008-09, students at for-profit schools represented 26 percent of the borrower population and 43 percent of all defaulters. The median federal student loan debt carried by students earning associate degrees at for-profit institutions was $14,000. 

The upward trend in default rates has been fueled by rising college enrollment, tuition increases and economic circumstances that have forced students and their parents to borrow more heavily. The federal government now sends $24 billion in student aid programs to the nation’s colleges and universities. For-profits enroll approximately 10 percent of students
in postsecondary higher education, or 1.8 million, but those students receive almost 25 percent of Pell Grants and Stafford Loans provided by the government.

Who Is Likely to Default?

Researchers at the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center say high
debt levels are a concern, but not necessarily an indicator of repayment

“We know that failure to complete a degree or certificate program is the most consistent predictor of student loan default,” said Sandy Baum and Patricia Steele in their 2010 Trends in Higher Education Report titled Who Borrows Most?

The report examines characteristics of undergraduate students whose debt levels are greatest. The authors say the problem is not that all students are borrowing too much but that some groups of borrowers might be at risk of serious financial difficulty. Furthermore, many young people have a limited understanding of the effects of the obligations they are undertaking
and cannot accurately predict future earnings.

The statistics on those who do graduate reveals differences in debt level, type of loans and vulnerability to risk across the various higher education sectors. The study found that of the 66 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients who graduated with debt, 25 percent borrowed $35,500 or more. However, even students with lower debt might struggle because of
weak earnings. For example, the 10 percent of associate degree recipients who graduated with more than $20,400 in debt are as vulnerable as the bachelor’s degree recipients with twice as much debt because the earning potential of the two-year degree is generally lower.

The report found that high debt is most common among students who graduated from for-profit institutions, in which more than half of 2007-08 bachelor’s degree recipients had $30,500 or more in debt. More significantly, nonfederal borrowing is most widespread in this sector. Among for-profit bachelor’s degree recipients, 65 percent of borrowers had an
average of $11,300 in nonfederal debt – in addition to their federal student loans.

“Students using nonfederal loans to pay for college are of particular concern because private student loans generally have higher interest rates and do not come with the same repayment protection as federal student loans,” said Baum, a professor emerita at Skidmore College. “These are the students who are more likely to face repayment difficulties.”

Experts at the Project on Student Debt have reached similar conclusions, cautioning that the difference in the kind of debt students graduate with matters and that private loans put students “at the mercy of the lender.” 

Who Borrows Most? also found that debt levels vary among racial/ethnic groups. Borrowing is more prevalent among Black bachelor’s degree recipients, with 27 percent borrowing $30,500 or more, compared to 16 percent of Whites, 14 percent of Hispanics/Latinos and 9 percent of Asian-Americans. 

Challenging the Student Loan Industry

The most recent statistics on student loans are no surprise to Collinge. He founded StudentLoanJustice.Org in 2005 as a “grass-roots organization” to help borrowers who are adversely affected by predatory loan practices, which he says are “systemic” and not limited to the for-profit sector. 

“I have been calling attention to these activities for years, so it was long, long overdue,” he said. “However, the for-profits are not alone in engaging in activities that ultimately cause massive harm. The other schools are nearly as bad.”

Collinge’s fight with the student loan industry was born out of his own struggle to pay back $38,000 in student loans that he borrowed when he studied at the University of Southern California. Over the years, he racked up interest, fees and penalties that raised his debt to approximately$100,000. As part of the Catch-22 of student loans, Collinge found it harder
to get employment when companies began requiring security checks on applicants.

His situation is similar to that of many of the 8,000 members of StudentLoanJustice.Org. The organization’s website and its Facebook page contain testimonials from former students who entered college hoping to better their lives and find good jobs. When these individuals could not get jobs in their fields, such as education, business and the hospitality industry, they soon found themselves with huge financial penalties when they could not meet their student loan payments. 

“People who default on student loans are typically decent students who, for one reason or another, were not able to capitalize on their education,” says Collinge. “Most agree that they are responsible to pay back what they borrowed, but they cannot afford to pay back the wildly increased amounts that federal law has allowed to be imposed on them.”

The problem, he says, is that laws currently call for massive penalties to be attached to student loan debt. Laws also take away bankruptcy protection and do not allow refinancing of the debt. In addition, student borrowers are subject to wage and tax garnishment as well as possible termination of employment.

For the last five years, StudentLoanJustice.Org has lobbied for legislation that would give standard consumer protection laws to student loans. Members have taken their cause to the media and legislators and even completed a 23,000-mile bus tour across the country to visit members of the House and Senate in their home districts. Collinge would like to see the
Department of Education to get tougher with schools and lenders. 

Debt Levels for Undergraduates This chart reports both the distribution of student debt levels among all bachelor’s degree recipients and the distribution when only those who borrowed are included. Ten percent of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with $39,300 or more in education debt, and a quarter graduated with at least $24,600. Among the two-thirds with debt, 25 percent borrowed $30,500 or more. While debt levels are lower for associate degree and certificate earners, their expected earnings are also much lower, so it is reasonable to define high debt separately for each group. The 10 percent of associate degree recipients who graduated with over $20,400 in debt may be at least as vulnerable as the bachelor’s degree recipients with twice as much debt.

Debt Levels for Undergraduates
This chart reports both the distribution of student debt levels among all bachelor’s degree recipients and the distribution when only those who borrowed are included. Ten percent of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with $39,300 or more in education debt, and a quarter graduated with at least $24,600. Among the two-thirds with debt, 25 percent borrowed $30,500 or more. While debt levels are lower for associate degree and certificate
earners, their expected earnings are also much lower, so it is reasonable to define high debt separately for each group. The 10 percent of associate degree recipients who graduated with over $20,400 in debt may be at least as vulnerable as the bachelor’s degree recipients with twice as much debt.

“Returning bankruptcy and other standard consumer protections will at least force the Department [of Education] to have some skin in the game so that they may actually take their oversight role seriously,” he said. 

In response to the growth of enrollment, debt load and default rates at for-profit schools, the Obama administration is negotiating with the higher education community to develop a set of proposals that strengthen the integrity of the federal student aid programs. Some of the administration’s proposed regulations are aimed at protecting students from misleading
and overly aggressive recruiting practices, providing consumers with better information about the effectiveness of career college programs and ensuring that only eligible students and programs receive aid. 

One of the most significant proposals requires for-profit institutions to better prepare students for “gainful employment” or risk losing access to federal student aid. Colleges would have to have a repayment rate of at least 45 percent to continue to be eligible for student aid programs. Federal standards also would include new formulas to measure debt-income levels to make sure that graduates are not taking on too much debt.

“Gainful employment is actually a pretty well designed feedback and control mechanism,” said Collinge. “But as long as standard consumer protections are absent from student loans, causing the Department of Education to profit from defaulted loans, neither this nor any other rule attempting to hold the colleges accountable will have any effect.”

As part of his latest call to action, Collinge has written a book, The Student Loan Scam, which covers the history of student loans and the rise of Sallie Mae and other powerful student loan companies. He continues to press the case for regulation and believes that the time for reform
is long overdue.

“This problem is simply too menacing and damaging to the public interest to go unattended,” he said, adding that student loan debt now surpasses credit card debt in the U.S.

One step toward change was taken last year when President Obama signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, which contained provisions allowing students to borrow money directly from the government instead of going through private banks for government guaranteed loans. But while that might help make the process go more smoothly, it did
not change the fee or penalties associated with the loans.

Sandy Baum, part of a team of researchers, policy experts and higher education officials examining student aid policies, says the current system is neither transparent nor predictable, especially for students from lowincome backgrounds who often have no family resources for college. “Student loans can contribute significantly to providing educational opportunities,” said Baum. “However, it is vital that we educate students and parents about loans. We also need to design policies to protect students as much as possible from unmanageable debt.”