On The Pulse: Latino strides in higher education, stalled by legislative crawl

By James W. Horne, Jr.
President/CEO, United Way of Greater Union County
The Latino community continues to make strides as a growing population in America.  It has been projected by the Pew Research Center (www.peresearch.org/fact-tank/2014) that by 2050, the Hispanic population will exceed 106 million, doubling what its population is today. That is very significant, but not surprising as we see many cultural shifts in the way big business, as well as small business, have responded to this growing trend.

However, when it comes to accessing higher education many young Latino students find themselves against many odds. For example, as a new immigrant, facing a multitude of hostilities in the good ole’ USA, without proper documentation, Latino students are banned from applying for government backed student loans and grants that help offset and pay for college.  This type of systemic discrimination places a heavy burden on many Latino families who have yet had a chance to establish themselves in their home.  It also diminishes the esteem of Latino students who have high hopes to succeed, many of whom understand the significance of their role as the “first-generation” family member who will attend a college or university in America.

On the White House’s website, it states that the DREAM Act is a “common-sense legislation drafted by both Republicans and Democrats that would give students who grew up in the United States a chance to contribute to our country’s well-being by serving in the U.S. Armed forces or pursuing a higher education.”

Yet this Congress has stalled on passing such legislation that would be vital to the lives of so many and economically beneficial to this nation, as well.  We can only deduct that race; ethnicity and cultural differences are major factors in not pushing this important piece of legislation forward.

In the meantime, under Governor Christie’s administration, the Tuition Equality Act was passed giving undocumented Latino students, who graduate from a New Jersey high school, the opportunity to pay in-state tuition as opposed to out-of-state tuition, as it had been. That’s as far as the Christie Administration has gotten in helping the Latino population access higher education.

According to a recent report sited in an article in NJ Spotlight, New Jersey Policy Perspective says the 2013 tuition equity bill was only a partial success. It has resulted in increased applications from and admissions of the “dreamer” cohort -- those who came to this country when young -- because it has lowered costs. However, there is much more that can be done when it comes to students eligible for aid.  According to the report, written by Erika Nava, the good news is 251 students qualified for in-state tuition under the Tuition Equality Act, which saw a 666 percent increase of undocumented students enrolled in four-year state colleges between the 2014 spring and fall semesters. 

The trend in better enrollment numbers is good, but WE as a community should expect more.  More dreams, more fairness, and more opportunities for all New Jersey residents, including our Latino families.  We will only do better as a community when we all have a fair chance to educate our children.  Clearly, as the Latino population continues to grow, and demonstrates its cultural influence in our daily lives, it is vital to this nation to provide the same opportunities, as it has in the past for other immigrant groups.  Let’s push forward legislation that will give Latino students equal opportunity to higher education.