Monthly Archives: September 2011

TenThousand and Counting

The great team at New Futuro is launching a new initiative today aimed at increasing the number of Latino college students. Focusing on students and their parents, it’s great initiative that will award scholarships, provide much needed information about financial aid, and incorporate the support of non-profit organizations around the region. Great work by a great organization. You can read the news release here.

Closing the Skills Gap

A great piece by Jeffrey Selingo highlighting the “skills gap” (a workforce that doesn’t possess the skills to fill current jobs) and role of higher education in closing it. I would agree. In my time working on both corporate and academic settings, this gap can be seen in other ways – theory versus practicality.

Practice can be defined as the action of doing something; performance, execution. Theory can be defined as a scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena. I would argue that the key relationship (or lack thereof) between theory and practice is the gap that exists between them. There is a general disconnect, for example, between theoretical (academic) frameworks and business realities.

Practitioners take least abstract approaches and often dismiss theory as irrelevant or infeasible. When faced with a new situation, a practitioner relies on knowledge and experience. Theorists observe in order to understand the world with the goal of building an understanding of observed phenomena over time. I think this creates a strained relationship. It is easy, for example, to teach a subject like marketing theory, but its nature makes it challenging to apply, especially in a field that is very unpredictable. On the other hand, it is more challenging to teach an individual a practice (or vocation); it can be learned only through experience.

A few months back, a friend who works for Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) told me of a frustrating situation he experienced working in partnership with MIT. Two teams (one JPL and one MIT) worked to develop software for a satellite project. When the teams met to discuss their ideas, he said they spent more time bickering over their respective approaches rather than their solutions.

And there starts the gap.

The Latino College Student Lanscape

Hispanic Outlook Magazine does a great job of profiling Latino students in college. From for-profits to state institutions, the article incorporates profiles of students in each category – many of which are inspiring. Such was the case of community college student Jessica Bonilla:

Working two or three jobs to pay her tuition, Bonilla said she came directly to school from work and sometimes slept in her car in the college parking lot before classes because she was so tired. This year, Bonilla became the first member of her family to earn a college degree. An honors graduate with a perfect 4.0 grade point average, she also was a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honors society for community colleges. She is transferring to a four-year school and hopes to go to law school.

I’ve blogged before regarding the experiences of Latino college students and how their experiences impact their transition into the workforce and social mobility. This article once again demonstrates how the path, while different, still involves overcoming many of the same barriers regardless of where they attend.

Shining a Light on Minority Scholarship Realities

Mark Kantrowitz, a financial-aid expert at, shares a great study that discredits the perception that minorities receive their fair share of scholarship monies. His study is supported by heaps of data which demonstrate that minorities are still on the lower end of receiving scholarship awards as compared to Caucasians:

The reality is that minority students are less likely to win private scholarships or receive merit-based institutional grants than Caucasian1 students. Among undergraduate students enrolled full-time/full-year in Bachelor’s degree programs at four-year colleges and universities, minority students represent about a third of applicants but slightly more than a quarter of private scholarship recipients. Caucasian students receive more than three-quarters (76%) of all institutional merit-based scholarship and grant funding, even though they represent less than two-thirds (62%) of the student population. Caucasian students are 40% more likely to win private scholarships than minority students.

The study indirectly sheds light on how Latinos and other minority families learn about college-related costs and financial aid. No question that the effectiveness and substance of the information received has a long-term impact on Latino college-going behavior and ultimately their transition into the workforce.

Will Growth Mean Support?

Marybeth Gathman at the Chronicle suggests most predominately white institutions (PWIs) might not be ready to support increased Latino enrollments at colleges and universities. Some colleges are taking notice. While HSIs are effectively addressing a growing Latino student population, questions remain about how colleges outside of traditional Latino regions will meet Latinos’ unique needs:

Many of the PWI’s boasting new growth in their Latino student populations have been fairly homogenous in terms of their racial make-up in the past. How are they making change to accommodate students with different backgrounds, experiences, and needs? Will retention programs have to be altered? What about campus programming? And how about the faculty? Does the faculty reflect the changing student body? Will there be same-race role models for Latino students? Research tells us that having role models with similar cultural backgrounds is vital to student success. Latinos make up less that 5 percent of faculty nationwide. Will we begin encouraging more Latino students to pursue Ph.D.’s and enter the college teaching profession?

Place(d) to No Where

The Washington Monthly has a great piece that sheds light on the remedial course placement process at many community colleges.

A 2010 study by researchers at Northwestern University surveyed 2,000 students who took placement tests and found that 75 percent of them did not understand the significance of the tests—and two-thirds didn’t realize that remedial classes would earn them no credit. Andrea Venezia, a researcher for the policy organization West-Ed, conducted with colleagues a study of placement policies at California colleges and got similar results: the majority of test takers were unaware that their performance would determine what classes they would be able to take and whether they would receive credit. In a typical comment, one student told the researchers, “The woman at the test center said it doesn’t matter how you place. It’s just to see where you are.” Another misguided student had the placement test confused with a career aptitude assessment. “I thought it was one of those tests you take just to see what kind of field they were going to recommend,” she said.

During my long stretch of attending community colleges in Los Angeles, I took some of these tests and was placed in similar situations. Almost 30 years since my experience, it seems the process has not changed. The lack of academic counseling and institutional support is overwhelming.

Of course, this is only one account and let’s keep in mind that community colleges have felt the brunt of state budget cuts while attempting to meet and support the needs of a transitioning workforce.

However, given the high number Latinos using community colleges as a pathway to 4-year institutions, it’s a cause for concern. Latinos already face a lack of information regarding the college admissions process – this only exacerbates it.

Menudo of Links

As is customary in my blog (or in the kitchen!), when you have leftovers , you need to make a bit of stew – or menudo! So many interesting topics and so little time. Please take a look at some of these very insightful articles/posts. It will be worth your time. Enjoy the sopa!

Excelencia in Education shares a great report regarding Latino college students – and where they are geographically (at Hispanic Serving Institutions). Did you know that over half of all Latino undergraduate students in higher education (54%) are enrolled in less than 10 percent of institutions? Read more.

Getting Smart shares their thoughts on the PEW Hispanic study regarding the increase in Latino college enrollments. A reason to celebrate.

Great post by HBR Blog Network regarding the unmet dream of Martin Luther King – especially at the top of organizations. Did you know that only seven Fortune 500 companies have a Latino CEO, even though Latinos are the fastest growing population in the country?

Disgusting and unfortunate acts on the University of Indiana campus targeting a Latino Cultural center. A reminder that ignorance is still alive and well.

A great NPR interview regarding applying gifted student strategies to underserved and underachieving students. Why not?

Excellent piece by NewsTaco regarding Latinos and the class of 2012. A must read.