When I was growing up, there was never any question about whether or not I’d be going to college. It was a given. I knew my family expected me to graduate from high school, and I was, in fact, eager to start the college application process. My mother set the bar high as far as her expectations went, and I was expected to live up to them. Children quickly learn to live up—or down!—to their parents’ expectations. Which is why I think it is so important for us to dream big for our children. Maybe they won’t choose to follow the exact path that we would like for them to follow, but with our support and encouragement, they will fearlessly forge their own way.
Even though college enrollment has risen among Latinos, many Latino students and their families still don’t see college as a viable option. With around 13.2 million Latinos living in poverty in America—and more than 6 million of those being children—the high cost of putting a child through college often seems an impossible feat to parents. Especially in the current economy that has affected the construction, hospitality, and restaurant industries—all businesses that support a large number of Latino families.
Here then are 10 great reasons why all Latino students should go to college:
1. TO LEARN ABOUT OUR HERITAGE—For some, the simple act of growing up Latino steeps them in language and tradition. But how well do we actually know our own cultural heritage and history? How often do we get to see our own faces reflected in the history books? Going to college allows us to study and learn about our heritage on a much deeper level. It allows us to understand our parents, grandparents, and maybe even our great-grandparents, as well as those who came before them. We can learn about the events that influenced history, or discover the origins of our cultural traditions. And in learning, we can take comfort and pride in our roots.
2. TO BREAK THE CYCLE OF POVERTY—If your parents live in poverty, or you are born into it, chances are greater that you will live in poverty, too. And not only does being poor strain your finances, but it also affects your health and can lead to chronic illnesses and low cognitive skills. Traditionally, though, receiving a college education leads to higher-paying jobs. And careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields especially have the ability to lift families out of poverty, since graduates can potentially earn a six-figure salary upon graduation.
3. TO FIND YOUR VOICE—College is the last step into adulthood. For most students, it is the first time they’ve been on their own, away from their parents’ watchful eyes. With the world at their feet, they can explore any subject they want to learn about and form opinions on their own. Their personal beliefs may be explored, tested, and firmly established. The freedom to express these beliefs can instill confidence, and sometimes leads to the creation of movements with the power to change a society. I can think of several moments in history, where university students have fought for change in their own countries, Occupy Wall Street being only one of them.
4. TO MEET OTHER LATINOS WITH SIMILAR ASPIRATIONS—There is strength in numbers. Meeting other Latino students who are working towards the same goal—achieving a college education—can help them through the process. They may form support groups and friendships that stay with them after graduation. And they may establish connections that can create new opportunities for them professionally.
5. TO DEVELOP THEIR SKILLS AND EXPLORE DIFFERENT CAREER PATHS—Going to college allows students to explore career fields that they might otherwise never even know about. It also helps them to learn new skills that are used in certain fields. Journalism majors may learn about copy editing, enunciation, or sound bites to name a few, while a biology major may learn how to carry out the scientific method or quantify data. Mastering these skills can payoff by qualifying them for more prestigious and higher-paying positions.
6. TO GET INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY SERVICE—Universities have many active community service programs. Obtaining a degree in a particular field often may require a certain number of hours of community service. Sororities and fraternities may also require their members to participate in local events that promote good will and give back to others. This is a great opportunity for students to learn compassion, empathy, and selflessness.
7. TO THINK GLOBALLY—The diversity found on a college campus may be greater than that found in a student’s hometown. Being exposed to other cultures and people of a different race, culture, or nationality helps us to see the world through different eyes and embrace not just the differences, but the similarities we all share.
8. TO SERVE AS ROLE MODELS—Our children need more role models to help inspire and encourage them to try their best in school. They need to see their own faces reflected and learn about success stories so that they can understand that they are precious and valuable and worthy members of our society. They should learn that they can make a difference. Latino college students and graduates can fill this role, inspiring other children to pursue higher education.
9. TO CREATE CHANGE—Most of all, in these difficult times, Latinos need leaders who love nuestra gente and are willing to fight for change. We need people who have the knowledge and expertise to help our communities. We need leaders who have a vested interest in our people, and who will create and enact laws that help ALL of the citizens in the United States—including Latinos.
10. TO REALIZE THEIR DREAMS—A college education is one of the main tools our children have available to help them to achieve their goals and make their dreams a reality. There they can develop specialized skills and network with others of like minds, which may in turn, open doors that lead to a successful career. It is where our children find a career that they love, rather than a job that they hate.