November 19, 2012

In crisis for U.S., 80 percent of Hispanic workers without college

Without more education, Hispanics won't be able to fill higher-paying jobs, contributing to the U.S. income disparity and slowing the sales that propel the earnings of U.S. companies.

By CRAIG TORRES/Bloomberg News

(Continued from page 2)

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Ronald Ramos, 18, of Manassas, Va., is looking for a temporary job to help him pay for college. Hispanics such as Ramos are the fastest-growing component of America’s work force.

Danny O'Shea/Bloomberg News

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The headstone of Miguel “Mickey” Hernandez, who died of a stab wound to the chest in November 2010 at age 15. Ronald Ramos, above, one of Hernandez's friends, says gangs prowled the neighborhoods and their members were also in the schools.

Danny O'Shea/Bloomberg News

Now a few months out of high school, he says his dream is to spend two years at a community college then transfer to a four-year university, studying music and fine arts. He has taken courses in tax preparation and needs a job to help pay for fees and books.

Manassas' Hispanic population rose to 11,876 in 2010, or 31 percent of the population, more than doubling from 15.1 percent or 5,316 in 2000, according to city figures. The number of Hispanic students grew to 3,629 in the last academic year, about 51 percent of the total, from 27 percent in 2003-2004.

The city's Southern identity – a Civil War battlefield is close by and streets bear names like Reb Yank Drive – competes with signs of Hispanic influence. Shopping centers host stores such as Video Mexico and Taqueria Tres Reyes, where goat-meat tacos can be purchased with a tall glass of "horchata," a sweet beverage made with rice milk and almonds.

"One of the first things I asked is how do we speak to people who don't speak English?" says Catherine Magouyrk, who was appointed superintendent of the city's schools this year. She spent $15,000 on translation equipment so parents could understand what was going on at back-to-school nights.

The town in May also elected Ilka Chavez to the school board, its first Hispanic member.

"I am here for all the kids," Chavez says. "But if we can move and engage the Hispanic population, it will stabilize the system across the board."

The city had 186 Hispanic students in its Class of 2012 cohort, according to state data. Of those, 69 percent graduated on time according to state criteria, while 14.5 percent dropped out. That compares with an 89 percent graduation rate for 202 whites and a dropout rate of 3.5 percent.

Magouyrk, interviewed in her office just a few steps away from the high school, says she is meeting quarterly with all students to hear them out.

"There isn't just one answer," she says. "It will take a multifaceted approach to meet the variety of needs of all our students."

Her aim is to keep information, counseling and goals in front of teens so they remain focused on a career or college path and don't drop out. She says local churches, which get the word out to parents, are big allies in the effort.

NEEDED: ROLE MODELS, BETTER INFORMATION

The Rev. Ramon Dominguez, a Catholic priest who has worked with more than 200 children in his tutoring program at Georgetown South, says Hispanic teens need role models, better information and more hands-on guidance.

"We are talking about capable American citizens who are born here who are just stuck," Dominguez says. "A number of them would like to go to college and don't know if they would be able to afford it."

"Immigration status is a big obstacle for capable students who can't access the university system," he adds.

Obama's young-immigrant amnesty program doesn't override the patchwork of in-state tuition policies. Currently, 14 states allow students who meet requirements to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges regardless of their immigration status, according to Tanya Broder, senior attorney in Oakland, California for the National Immigration Law Center.

Meg Carroll, a former Manassas police officer who speaks Spanish and is now the manager for the Georgetown South community council, says Latinos understand the value of education.

The parents just can't manage the language or the daily decisions that need to be made to navigate the schools. This year she started a tutoring program. After putting up just a few fliers, 50 parents showed up with their children the first night.

"They hate being not able to help their children" because of language barriers, says Carroll, who plans to double and maybe even triple the number of tutors involved. "They come here saying, 'We want our children to succeed. We just can't help them.' "

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