This article originally appeared on AlterNet.org on June 5, 2013.
By Jaime Dominguez
The image of the Latino or Latina in mainstream media and primetime television programming is under transformation. Instead of the traditional roles of the immigrant maid or the linguistically challenged truck driver, we now have talent on full display such as Selena Gomez on The Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place" and Sophia Vergara of ABC’s “Modern Family.”
But there is still room to grow in popular culture to reflect the Latino reality in this country. The next logical step is the Latino or Latina as the intellectual and academic.
With high school and college graduation season upon us, in the near and immediate future, you are more likely to see many more Latinos crossing the stage with a diploma in hand than ever before. A recent Pew Hispanic reportshows that Latinos are on the cusp of something phenomenal: breaking the stereotype that college is not for them.
According to Pew Hispanic, seven in 10 U.S. Latino high school graduates, or 69 percent, in the class of 2012 went to college last fall. That's a record-high college enrollment rate for Latinos, and it's the first time Latinos have surpassed white (67 percent) and black (63 percent) students, even as they lag behind Asian-Americans (84 percent.)
This is a milestone given that a little more than a decade ago, only 49 percent of American Latino high school graduates were enrolling in college. For Latinos, their 40 percent increase since 2000 is the most by any racial/ethnic group.
Here's more good news: Latino youth are also dropping out of school at much lower rates. The Latino high school dropout rate has fallen by half over the past decade — from 28 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2011. This is the largest percentage drop for any group during this period.
So, to those who think Latinos do not value or invest in education and by extension, refuse to climb the assimilation ladder in civic society, think again. This encouraging news should be embraced and applauded given Latinos are the fastest and youngest growing demographic in the U.S. Latinos make up more than 16 percent of the U.S. population—50.5 million. But, by 2050, it is estimated that 30 percent of the U.S. population will be Latino.
Because Latinos have the largest percentage of any group in the United States for the under 18 years cohort, at 34 percent, much of the future growth is expected in the Latino school age population. More than 12.4 million Hispanics were enrolled in the nation’s public schools pre-K through 12th grade in October 2011, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
This is why K-12 instruction is of vital importance in the equation of Latino education success. We need to acknowledge this potential and invest in areas of high Latino populations. It is clear that the educational success of these citizens will in all likelihood determine the strength of a state’s workforce and economy including respective counties and cities.
According to Pew Hispanic,Latinos make up nearly 23.9 percent of our K-12 student population nationwide. This is up one-fifth, from 19.9 percent in 2005 and 16.7 percent in 2000. This phenomenon is even more glaring in select states. For example, in seven states, Latinos comprise more than 25 percent of this population. And, in the 2009-2010 school year, Latinos accounted for more than 50 percent of the K-12 students enrolled in California and New Mexico schools. Texas recently reported Latinos to be in the majority in public K-12 schools as of the 2010-2011 school year.
Thus, ensuring the educational success of Latinos is not a “Latino thing.” I would argue that it is an interest of U.S. national security. As we look to the future, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2020, nearly one in four college-age U.S. adults will be Latino.
- Jaime Dominguez is a lecturer in political science at Northwestern University.