Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Interview with Leonard A. Valverde, Editor and Contributing Author of The Latino Student Guide to College Success, 2nd Edition

What prompted you to write The Latino Student Guide to College Success?
Since we are speaking about the second edition of this book, I have to say that the need for this updated copy is even more than the first edition. The purpose of the book is to help Latinos to access higher education much more than they have in the past and to graduate from college. By examining the social condition Latinos in general face and in higher education specifically, we find two major demand issues. The social condition can be narrowed for discussion by examining the demographics of 2010 census. The lack of access to higher education by Latinos is the second negative issues, i.e., their underrepresentation is seen when compared to white student access or to its own increasing population numbers. Let me briefly justify both points.

The fastest growing population and youngest population as reported by the 2010 Census data states that these two features apply to the Latino population. The greatest growth was provided by Latinos, 43 percent of U.S. population growth. Latinos now make up 16.3% of the population or 51 million. Additionally, the Census bureau, based on 2000 and 2010 numbers, projects that Latinos will continue to increase and estimate that by 2050 they will be XX% of the total population. Secondly, the Latino population is younger in age than other subpopulations in the United States. Average age for Latinos is 37.2 versus whites over 41 years. Furthermore, the largest portion of the Latino population is school age, 74.2%! In fact, Latino students in public schools are now the majority in public schools districts in major metropolitan cities across the country, e.g., New York, New Jersey, Miami-Dade, Dallas, San Antonio, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, etc. Lastly, what needs to be pointed out, these demographic numbers do not fully demonstrate the impact Latinos will have in higher education and across the country. What do I mean? The Census Bureau states that when it comes to Latinos, they know their recorded numbers are under-counted! Why? Typically in poor neighborhoods, more than one family will live in one dwelling. However, Latinos will not state the actual number in fear of some type of negative consequence. Also, there are many Latinos that are not counted because of their immigrant status, i.e., picking seasonal crops across the country. Third, there are many Latinos who do not participate in census counts because of their legal status, i.e., entered the United States, by not going through the lengthy standard process of getting a “green card” to work in the U.S. (The latest estimate of undocumented Latinos is 11+ million.) Associated with their undocumented status, while their children may have been born in the Unites States, they do not report them because of fear of being found out, deported and being separated from their children. In short, the largest future enrollment or student body for higher education institutions will be Latinos!

The second point is typically referred to as the education gap. Latino students are still not graduating from high school at the same rate like their white student counterparts. And those Latino students with a high school diploma are not going on to college. Public schools, where the majority of the Latino students are attending, still have high drop-out rates (in some high schools over 50%), don’t prepare Latino students adequately for a college curriculum, don’t advise Latino students about how to apply to college, or worse, discourage Latino students to even consider going on to a community college. Furthermore, those disproportional numbers of Latino students who do qualify for college admittance now face an ever greater financial burden than previous generations, i.e., the cost of attendance is exponentially increasing with state funds for higher education now less than 50% and publically supported colleges have to increase the price of tuition. More and more students have to expect (1) graduating from college with a large debt, (2) applying for financial aid and (3) still needing to split their time while in college, that is, working part time or even full time.

What “message” do you want to communicate?
“Si Se Puede!” This Spanish phrase was joined by the great labor organizer, Cesar Chavez. It is the Farm Workers Union mantra. It provides hope and inspiration. It basically states that against what appears to be overwhelming odds,” it can be done”. The contributing authors, many other educators and I believe a critical component for getting Latinos to go to college in much greater numbers than before must start with instilling a positive can-do-attitude within them. This critical belief in themselves both in their own ability and their own capacity is not only needed for them to apply and get into college but to be successful in earning their college degree. The book addresses directly and indirectly this aspect of forming the proper mindset. As stated in answer one above, we know too many Latinos are either discouraged or not encouraged to think about applying to college. As a result many who are capable of a college education self select out. This unnecessary drain is not good for the individual, Latinos as a group, and society in general. The general public keeps reading in newspapers that the future workforce of the U.S. will have to be college educated. A high school diploma is no longer adequate. The U.S. and the world is a high tech industry, information society and a global economy. While in the past, the U.S. was able to be a world power without a Latino or African American educated population, this lack of education will put North America into a second class power, leaving countries like China, Japan, and soon South America to be in the top tier of powerful countries.

Secondly, the book’s contributing authors know that higher education has become more complicated, i.e., the maze to matriculate is more difficult to travel. Also the typically path into and through college for Latinos is different (more convoluted and more pitfalls) than for white students. So the book speaks to the Latino path. Specifically, just over half the Latino college-going students entered a local two year college, have to take non-credit remedial courses and transferred to a four institution. Hence it is just lengthier in time and more complicated than the traditional from high school to four year. Instead we are finding that Latino students are entering the work force or the military right out of higher school. Entering the workforce to help support their family/ parents and other siblings or joining the military because armed forces recruiters go to high Latino enrollment high schools, more so than the college recruiters. Given this Latino pattern, in the book, we write to a student who have this background, i.e., provide information to Latino veterans (benefits), sons and daughters who have to work to support their families and need to apply for financial aid, transferring from a two year institution to a four university, warnings about pitfalls (taking too many remedial courses that don’t and won’t count toward degree completion).

In short we are providing them with a road map of how to traverse the college admission, admittance, and completion of a college education. The term “road map” is the laymen’s term, a guide is the more academic terminology.

What was the highlight of your research?
The future of the youthful Latino population is interdependent with higher education and visa versa. The highlights were two-fold: Demographic findings by the Census Bureau starting with the 1990 count continued on in the 2000 count and the 2010 reporting. Even better, the projections for future growth accelerated at a faster pace than predicted in the 1990 and 2000 counts. So many others and I believe their 2010 projections for 2025 and 2050 will come sooner than these dates. Secondly, Latina (Hispanic women) enrollment in college took over the Latino (Hispanic men) numbers. Latinas are the majority enrollment and Latinos are less than Latinas. The significance of this more female Hispanics than male Hispanics in college is there is now a dual stream that recruiters and universities will have to respond to.

Conversely, the low-lights did not change or the pre-college data did not improve. Specifically, high school drop-out rates for Latinos remained high, high school graduate rates did not increase proportional to Latino high school age, achievement gap between Hispanics and whites remained the same. In fact, reported in the New York Times (S. Tavernise, Feb. 9, 2012), it appears achievement gap between poor communities and high income schools were getting wider.

In the course of your research, what discovery surprised you the most?
In two words, technology utilization. The dependence and use of computers, smart phones, and the internet is astounding. In addition to universities providing computers on the desks of administrators, faculty offices, support staff, and student labs/commons, classrooms are being fitted with electronic panels for use by faculty, and faculty are being trained to use these audio visual instruments.  Students are bringing in their own lap tops and ipods to campus. Faculty and students are in contact 24/7 by use of e-mail and smart phones. (No more dependence on faculty limited office hours during the day). On-line classes are springing up everywhere. Access to information is no longer limited to text books; the latest research is now available on web pages. No more limitation to college library collections. Presentation of information in the classroom is now done via internet links and displayed on classroom screens. Students can record classroom presentation via ipads; download assignments and upload their work via blackboard. While this is a great improvement in teaching and learning, it must be remembered that Latino high school students are coming from schools that don’t have these hi tech equipment in use. So another strange new way of teaching and learning.

What surprises readers/others the most about your research?
Reading the short stories by successful Latinas and Latinos that are placed in the book. The general myth about Latino/a college graduates is they are the cream of the crop, smarter than their high school cohorts, over-achievers, etc. In the first printing as with the second edition, I asked prominent Latinos and Latinas who became successful after graduating from college to write their story as to how they made it into and through college. These are persons who are elected congressional members, ranking officers in the military, lawyers, medical doctors, university administrators, etc. The theme that runs through each of their writings is they faced the typical difficulties, not encouraged to go to college, discouraged in high school, coming from families with limited educational background and economic means, having to concern themselves with fulfilling other responsibilities than just going to college. In short, these successful Hispanics were not the exception, instead they were the norm. Thus the readers (Latinos/as) were surprised to learn that their role models were truly representative of them. So these highly successful Latino college graduates through their stories said very realistically, if I did it, so can you. Proving what the basic premise of the book is: Si Se Puede.

How did your research change your outlook on Latino/Latinas accessing a college education and graduating?
It absolutely re-enforced the need for an updated and revised second edition, basically for two main reasons. One, more Latinos definitely need a step by step guide that starts with getting them to believe in themselves (empowerment), provides them with concrete information and insight as to how to overcome the many confusing and convoluted processes and procedures.  And a college education is the floor needed to get them into a high paying career in an ever global economy. Add to this new reality that college is now a must, just to be in the middle class in society. The twenty first century promises to change the workforce and societal landscapes such that college educate professionals will have to go back to college to retool and keep apace with new knowledge or to re-educate themselves for a yet to be defined set of jobs. Two, my examination of the current status of Latinos strengthened my belief that each new Latino generation can and has overcome barriers despite of a more demanding universe, i.e., higher cost of a higher education and a shrinking ability by colleges to respond to a growing and diverse enrollment.

How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas you set forth?
It has been positive across the board. By this I mean, the first edition was formally reviewed well. Students commented favorable regarding the short stories as being inspirational. The second edition kept what was expressed as useful in the first edition: information provided was clear, direct and comprehensive. It was well organized and easy to follow, i.e., step by step in sequential order. The second edition focused on adding the dimension of building a positive attitude, and added the all encompassing technology element.

Is it what you hoped for, or is there more work to be done?
It met my expectations. The contributing authors did an excellent job of sharing the most important variables that are somewhat complicated (like applying for financial aid and admission) without sacrificing simplicity and comprehensiveness. The work yet to be done with this edition is to make its existence known to the proper folks. The guide book targets Latino students, but as with most students, they need someone of import to bring it to their attention, specifically, middle and senior high school teachers, counselors, and principals. Also the book is a rich resource for college recruiters and admission personnel, community college faculty and staff, as well as lower division instructors, faculty and academic support staffs at the university level. A strong marketing effort to get in the hands of all of the above is necessary.

Leonard A. Valverde started as a math teacher in the Los Angeles City Unified School District, taught to English as a Second Language (ESL) students, then directed a California specially funded bilingual program. As a professor he has directed a federally funded Office for Advanced Research in Hispanic Education while at the University of Texas at Austin. Most recently, at  Arizona State University, he was the executive director of the Hispanic Border Leadership Institute, a four state consortium of public school districts, community colleges and universities, funded primarily by the Kellogg Foundation to promote systemic change and improvement of Latino education.  

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