Feb 03, 2016
Q&A: Dr. Victor Sáenz on ‘Ensuring the Success of Latino Males in Higher Education’
While more Latinos are heading to college than ever before, Latino males lag behind other groups—even behind Latinas—in obtaining a four-year degree. To shed some light on this issue, a group of scholars from across the country published their research in a new book titled Ensuring the Success of Latino Males in Higher Education (Stylus Publishing, Jan. 2016). We sat down with Dr. Victor Sáenz, co-editor of the book and associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration, to learn more about the many complex factors that keep Latino males from succeeding in post-secondary education – and why bridging this persistent achievement gap is a national imperative. What is causing Latino males to underestimate the value of a college degree? First let me offer some data. While the number of Latinos attending college and attaining degrees has increased steadily in recent years, the proportional representation of Latino males enrolled in higher education continues to lag behind their female peers. In 2012, Latino males had the lowest high school graduation rates across all male ethnic groups, and more than 60 percent of all associate’s or bachelor’s degrees earned by Hispanics were earned by female students. These trends suggest that, compared to their peers, Latino males continue to face challenges in achieving critical higher education milestones. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily conclude that Latino males are “underestimating” the value of a degree. Many simply find other means to make a living that may not include a higher education credential, perhaps because they feel a more immediate urgency to be a breadwinner or provider for their family. Why is it an economic imperative to close this achievement gap? One way to answer this is by considering the relationship between demographic trends and economic health. Because the Latina/o community is so young and is growing so rapidly in states like Texas and California, there’s a demographic reality that is winding its way through our schooling systems. That said, if half of the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the country is stubbornly lagging behind everyone else on key educational metrics, this persistent gap could have dire consequences on the long-term viability of our economy and our communities. Latino males in the workforce are concentrated in low-skilled, low-wage jobs, and they have more instability in their employment status. This translates into stunted economic opportunities for Latino males. When coupled with demographic trends this portends a dire economic outlook. The book examines the factors that inhibit academic success for Latino males. Could you highlight a common barrier that keeps them from completing a post-secondary education? One common barrier for Latino males that may keep them from completing a college degree is the financial pressures they may be facing to help contribute to their families. Because many are from working-class backgrounds, the immediate urge to join the labor force may outweigh the long-term gains that can flow from a higher education credential.