By Elisabeth Román
The 2010 Census figures came as a surprise to many as the number of Hispanics in the United States grew by 15.2 million in the last decade, accounting for more than half of the nation’s total population growth. The increase was larger than expected and confirmed that Latinos are living throughout the country’s heartland and no longer concentrated in major cities such as Los Angeles, Miami and New York.
President Barack Obama recently said that “At more than 54 million strong, including nearly 4 million in Puerto Rico, Hispanics constitute the country’s largest and fastest-growing minority group. They have had a profound and positive impact on our country through, among other things, their community’s strong commitment to family, faith, hard work and service… Our country was built on and continues to thrive on its diversity, and there is no doubt that the future of the United States is inextricably linked to the future of the Hispanic community.”
This means, according to a report released in April 2011 by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, that Latinos’ success in education and in the labor market is of immediate and long‐term importance to the U.S. economy. Unfortunately, the agency report also shows that Hispanics have the lowest education attainment level overall of any group in the U.S.
There are 17.1 million Latinos ages 17 and younger in the U.S., comprising over 23 percent of this age group. Currently, 1 in 5 students in the public schools system is Latino. Yet almost half of all Hispanic students never receive their high school diplomas. These dropout rates have limited the advancement opportunities of a population that is estimated to become the majority of the U.S. work force in less than 50 years.
The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics is a multi-agency working group within the Department of Education. The agency is charged with strengthening the nation's capacity to provide high quality education while increasing opportunities for Hispanic participation in federal education programs. It is headed by Juan Sepúlveda, a Mexican-American and one of the highest ranking Latinos in the Obama administration.
Sepúlveda directs the White House’s efforts in engaging Hispanic students, parents, families, organizations, and anyone working in or with the education system as active participants in improving the academic achievement of Hispanic Americans. “Hispanic students have graduated at lower rates than the rest of the population for years, making America’s progress impossible if they continue to lag behind. Strengthening and improving educational excellence in this community isn’t just a Hispanic problem. It’s a challenge to the entire country,” Sepúlveda said.
Having grown up in a working class Mexican-American neighborhood in Topeka, Kansas., Sepúlveda has been involved in community organizing and politics since the age of 16, when he was the first high school student hired to work for the Kansas Secretary of State.
Sepúlveda received a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard University. The third Latino ever to be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, he graduated with a combined degree in politics, philosophy, and economics from the Queens College of Oxford University. He also has a law degree from Stanford University. More than anyone, Sepúlveda recognizes that a quality education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity—it is a prerequisite to success.
Do you know young people who have dropped out of school, are not that interested in education or simply don’t think about it? Do you think it is excessive to say that the future of the nation is linked to the educational level of Hispanics?