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Chicanx/Latinx in Higher Education: Si Se Puede!!!

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By Juan Zendejas

Manuel was excited to start applying to companies through online platforms like indeed.com. He anticipated he would be hired quickly because of the strong need for electrical technicians. His only big criteria was to stay close to home in Los Angeles, CA and he did not care if he worked for a small or large organization. Now that he was finishing his two year program he could see himself joining the workforce, getting experience and eventually growing with his employer. Maybe one day he would become a Forman Assistant if he connected with the right Electrical Engineer that he could work under.

His two years of commitment toward his schooling would soon pay off and his parents, now U.S. Citizens who originally immigrated illegally from Mexico, could not be happier.

This story is a common thread among people from various Latino communities in the U.S. and it is a good one to hear. Any education is better than none, especially because it helps your earning power in the the workforce. Manuel was going to go from earning $13.00 per hour to $16.00 after receiving his certificate.

You can find people of Latino descent working in jobs like construction, electrical technician, automotive technician, paralegal, education assistants, nursing assistants or nanny, among others. These jobs, although challenging in their own right, are usually lower paying jobs and do not require a degree in higher education like a bachelors, masters or doctorate. Should the Latino community pride themselves more on higher education rather than working as soon as possible to earn an income?

People of Latino descent are preferring to work hard in the workforce rather than work hard in the classroom to earn degrees. If this trend is flipped it will prove to be more fruitful in the long run for Latino individuals and their burgeoning communities. The number of Latinos in the workforce is great but the lack of Latinos in higher education is alarming.

In 2020, census.gov estimated that there are about 60 million Latinos living in the U.S.; this number reflects about 19% of the population. At the same time, the Center for Economic and Policy Research reported that only about 15% of all Latinos have a college degree. This mainly included Latinos with 2 year associate degrees.

Shockingly, the American Council on Education reported in 2017 that only 3.9% of Latinos have a Masters Degree and less than 1% have a Doctoral degree.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S., completing a bachelor’s degree increased yearly earning potential by nearly $20,000, and a master’s degree attainment increased yearly earning potential by nearly $30,000.

The types of jobs and employment that Latinos tend to seek is reflective of the education that they have or do not have. If Latino people are not getting their degrees, how can we expect them to be in lead roles like Foreman, Engineer, Doctor, or Research Scientist?

To help with this issue, it is imperative that Latino’s discover the benefits of higher education early in their lives. As Latino students progress through school and begin looking for an institution of higher education, it is vital that they have access to individuals and support networks that can guide them in the process. Life experiences, mentors, parents who are open minded are certainly part of the equation. When Latino adolescents hear, “Hurry up and work” while living at home with their parents, they may do exactly that and will not hesitate to get into the workforce before earning any type of degree or maybe a quick one. Many will look back in later years and wonder about not putting as much effort into schooling as they did trying to go to work and may regret not going further in their education.

As the message begins to change in Latino homes about earning degrees in higher education versus getting out and working we will see a huge increase in higher level and higher earning positions among this community.

In a report called, The Changing U.S. Workforce – The Growing Latino Demographic and Workplace reported, “While increasing the number of Latinos who obtain STEM degrees is imperative, raising the educational attainment of Latinos in general is perhaps the best way to ensure that Latino students are prepared to fill the jobs of tomorrow.”

The nation’s Latino population is projected to grow to 119 million and be 29% of the US population by 2060 (U.S. Census Bureau). These numbers mean that latinos need to push education more than ever to ensure that we can get a piece of the pie with high level employmemt. With an increase in educational status the Latino population will have a greater impact politically on a local and national level and will be seen as an educated community with high paying jobs.

“Si se puede,” is a powerful saying in Latino communities that is often associated with working hard in your job. Keeping that mindset and using it in the area of attaining ones education will help Latino communities prosper in the U.S.

Many of the fastest-growing occupations of the future such as Therapist, Engineering Scientists, Program Data Analyst, Computer Scientist and Doctors who work on the cutting edges of technology will require more education than an associates degree and Latinos should go after those degrees before entering the workforce. It will certainly pay off in the long run.

Ponganse las pilas y estudien! Si se puede

The El Popo Newspaper was first published in 1970 by students concerned about the lack of a Chicana and Chicano perspective in newspapers. As a result, students called the newspaper, El Popo. The paper was named El Popo after the volcano El Popocatepetl. Involved in Chicana/o Movement of the 60’s and 70’s, students saw a connection between the smoke spewing volcano ready to erupt and the student movement ready to engage. Thus, throughout the El Popo’s forty-six years, the name continues to symbolize and to represent the spirit of each generation of students that contribute to the pages of the El Popo Newspaper. Faculty Advisor/Publisher Carlos R. Guerrero, Ph.D.