Can Latino Students Achieve “Educational Equity” After the Covid Pandemic?

Over the past two decades, enrollment in Latino colleges had increased. Latin American high school and college graduation rates were also increasing.

There was reason to believe education could finally start offering Latinos the great equalizer.

Instead, the coronavirus, which has hit Latinos disproportionately, exacerbated the inequalities they had slowly overcome through education.

Now Latino educators say they want more than to recover from the pandemic.

“We were already facing so much inequality that this pandemic was fertile ground for further inequalities,” said Feliza Ortiz-Licon, policy and advocacy manager for Latinos in Education, a nonprofit focused on education. ‘increased representation of Latinos in education and the fight against educational inequalities.

“We believe that with all that the Latino community has been through, it really is a time for us to reimagine the state of Latino education,” said Ortiz-Licon.

According to Latinos for Education, the proportion of Hispanics in public schools increased from 22% in 2009 to 27% in 2018. The overwhelming majority of these children were born in the United States.

In 2017, 19% of all students enrolled in college were Latino. Fifty-four percent of Latinos in college graduated with a bachelor’s degree within six years.

The group opened a two-day virtual meeting on Wednesday on the state of Latin American education on the theme “Reclaiming the Promise of Educational Equity”.

Amanda Fernandez, co-founder and CEO of Latinos for Education, said Hispanics were not a priority in the pandemic, despite its profound impact on the community.

Latino enrollments have plummeted at some colleges and universities due to the pandemic, dropping 1.9% this spring, up from a 2.1% increase in spring 2020. At community colleges, where Latinos are concentrated, enrollment Latinos fell 13.7 percent, up from a 1.7 percent increase in spring 2020.

The parents of many Latinos, including those who immigrated to the United States, “instilled in us that education was a path to success, and they fought to make it a reality for us,” Fernandez said. “We need to move around when necessary and lean on our ‘ganas’ [desires] and build something better for our community.

Latinos have seen higher rates of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and death, as well as lower vaccination rates, although measures are improving. Many Latino workers remained in their jobs while schools were closed. Latino and black teachers were already scarce as the pandemic triggered teacher retirements and resignations and some shortages across the country.

As Latino educators met, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona was traveling the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to promote the Biden administration’s Build Back Better legislation, which is hanging in the House as Democrats debate of its cost and scope.

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced reforms to the country’s student loan cancellation program, which has helped fewer borrowers than expected, in large part due to complex qualification requirements.

“There is a reason for the sense of urgency,” Cardona said in a recorded speech at the group’s virtual meeting. “We have often heard and maybe even explained that education is the great equalizer. Well, now is our chance to prove it. The funding is there. The president’s urgency is there. Are we going to go through this and come out stronger? I say we can.

Cardona noted that $ 130 billion for K-12 education was in the US bailout, the first pandemic relief bill signed by President Joe Biden, as well as $ 40 billion for the Higher Education.

The Build Back Better legislation, which is estimated to cost $ 3.5 trillion over 10 years, includes two years of free community college for all students. About 52 percent of all students are enrolled in a community college. The bill would also add about $ 80 billion for Pell Grants, which help students pay for tuition.

Money for universal kindergarten and for building and upgrading schools was also in the legislation when she left the House Education and Labor Committee. The amounts could change as negotiations continue and legislation makes its way through Congress.

The money for the bill is tied to tax increases that Democrats say would fall on Americans earning more than $ 400,000 a year, a tax increase on the richest Americans, and an increase of corporation tax.

“What if we approach Covid recovery as an opportunity to really re-educate and improve it? Cardona asked in the recorded video.

Break down barriers, involve families

Latinos for Education hosted focus groups in August with 44 educators from all educational backgrounds. About a third were teachers.

The group came up with a long list of recommendations, such as helping Spanish-speaking families understand the benefits of early childhood education, repealing laws that deny higher education and financial aid to undocumented students, better prepare Latinos for university, hold higher education institutes accountable. for Latino college completion rates and the recruitment of Latino students at the start of high school to focus more on teaching.

Katia Paz-Goldfarb, the provost associated with Hispanic initiatives and international programs at Montclair State University in New Jersey, has faced the prospect of losing Latino students during the pandemic.

She hosted a conference on the long-term impact of Covid-19 on Latino college students this summer with other officials from other Hispanic institutions. Many officials have expressed concern and fear of losing Latino students and rolling back the educational progress of the past two decades, she said.

High school counselors had contacted Montclair State University to report that students, many of whom were Latinos, were choosing not to apply to college due to the pandemic.

The university is doing better than other schools, and it is unlikely to see a significant drop in the number of Latino students, Paz-Goldfarb said, in part because of its work to recognize challenges and barriers for Latino students and adjusting recruitment, including speaking to entire families, not just students.

“For many institutions, the way they think about recruiting is very limited. If you culturally understand how we operate, you understand that the decision to go to college is a family decision, ”she said. “We have to convince the family, we have to support the family and the family has to support the child. “

Latinos have been at the heart of the struggle for educational equity dating back to the Mendez family, who were the main plaintiffs in the landmark Mendez v. Westminster of 1947, which challenged the segregation of Mexican-American children in schools and served as a precursor for the Brown v. Board of Education, said Fernandez.

“Claiming the promise of equity in education means reclaiming education as a vehicle for upward mobility,” she said, “as a way to broaden our perspectives and our understanding, as a way to recover our history and our story “.

Ortiz-Licon said that while the public education system “hasn’t always served us well,” Latinos have stuck with and trusted the public education system. “Will we continue to believe in this promise, that education is the greatest equalizer? ” she asked.

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