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Q & A on the promise of education for Latino youth

October 17, 2014

Allan Golston, president of the US Program, recently spoke at CHCI’s annual Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. CHCI is the nation’s premier organization developing the next generation of Latino leaders by educating, empowering and connecting them through fellowships, internships, scholarships, and college readiness programs for high school students. Allan spoke about the educational landscape for U.S. students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the foundation’s role in improving education for all students. He continued the conversation with Esther Aguilera, CHCI’s President and CEO.

Allan Golston: I enjoyed participating in the Public Policy Conference this year. It’s such an impressive group of people who you bring together. What initiatives do you expect to continue out of the conference this year?
Esther Aguilera: Thank you Allan. We are thrilled that you were able to be a part of the conference and share so much of the great work that the Gates Foundation is doing to help minority students. CHCI is excited to build off of the launch of our new CHCI NextOpp platform, an online directory of fellowships, internships and scholarships for Latino students. We know Latinos are underrepresented in so many key sectors and we see thousands of talented, young Latinos each year searching for opportunities to further their education and work experience. CHCI NextOpp has the potential to bridge that gap and change the game when it comes to the pipeline of talent. We encourage corporate America, universities, non-profits, government, etc, to share their opportunities through CHCI NextOpp and use the site.

AG: What are your priorities for CHCI right now?
EA: CHCI is directly impacting more than 1,600 Latino youth each year and we have tripled the number of paid internships in Washington, D.C. in the past five years. We are driven to do even more to focus on expanding opportunities for the growing Latino youth population and the growing demand for our programs. I am also very focused right now on our Comprehensive Campaign to raise funds for a 21st Century Leadership Center, and seeing that through to completion.

AG: How is CHCI helping to redefine what “success” in education means to the Latino community?
EA: CHCI is unique in that we are the only organization that engages Latino youth from early in high school all the way through college completion and career development. We see value in adding the element of work experience to the educational experience and I think our model has proven to be extremely effective in developing leaders and creating a pipeline of talented Latinos ready to take on leadership roles in places we haven’t seen Latinos before. Our definition of “success” includes making sure every student has the opportunity to succeed, explore their talents, and participate in the workforce.

AG: What are your hopes for education in the Latino community 10 years from now?
EA: A recent Pew Research report shows that we are making progress with regards to the dropout rate and college enrollment. The dropout rate was a record low of 14 percent for Latinos in 2013 compared to 32 percent in 2000, despite the number of Hispanic students having increased by 50 percent. Latinos also now account for 18 percent of new college students versus 12 percent in 2000. While those numbers are improving and very encouraging, the challenge we continue to face is graduating Latinos from college. Only 9 percent of Latino young adults ages 25-29 have a college degree, whereas the number is 69 percent for non-Latino whites. Another challenge we face is that less than one-quarter of Latinos entering college are actually prepared to take college-level courses. My great hope is that ten years from now we have college graduation rates in the 30 to 40 percent range for the Latino community and are on our way to meeting the national goal of 60 percent of adults having a college education by 2025.

I also want to address the fact that so many of our nation’s school districts are ill-prepared and not equipped to meet the needs of their rapidly growing Latino youth population. We know that the wave of young Latinos is only going to increase and it is imperative that our schools are better prepared to face this issue through teachers, curriculum and school books that speak to them. Ten years from now, we must be doing better if we want to see the next generation succeed.

AG: What role can Latino leaders – and all leaders – play in helping to accomplish those goals?
EA: We have to fully embrace education as the great equalizer across all spectrums of society. From government to corporate America, and everywhere in between, all of our leaders need to recommit to funding all levels of education to ensure our nation’s youth, and particularly minority youth who will make up so much of our future workforce, are educated and prepared to take on leadership roles in our society. This will also require public-private and non-profit partnerships to ensure that our education system is properly matched to our nation’s workforce needs.

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