Latinos are underrepresented at America's most prestigious schools, contributing to a lack of diversity in leadership roles in the U.S. Elizabeth Vaquera of Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute
discusses Hispanic enrollment, retention and graduation.
Traynham: The Education Trust reports that Latinos make up 18% of the U.S. population but just 8 1/2% of the student population at prestigious schools, which, in turn, can result in a lack of diversity among leadership roles in the United States. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. Joining me is Dr. Elizabeth Vaquera, director the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute. Elizabeth, welcome to the program. -
Vaquera: Thank you.
Traynham: So what I just said a few moments ago I find pretty jarring -- that there´s a huge disconnect. My words, not anyone else´s. Am I overreading that?
Vaquera: No, you´re actually right on point with it. We have a problem of students, particularly many of them who are high-achiever students, who have the ability, they have the skills to go to high, selective universities, and they are not going there.
Traynham: And the other side of this coin, I think, Elizabeth, is that if you go to a "less prestigious" school, there´s a higher percentage that you´re not gonna be able to make it through.
Vaquera: Exactly. That´s totally correct. And that´s why it´s very important that the students who have the skills and that they can achieve or that they can succeed in these universities, they go to universities with more resources. If they have more resources, their chances of graduating from those universities, of succeeding and getting their degrees on time and thriving in those educational spaces are gonna be way, way higher.
Traynham: Elizabeth, I´m sure loved ones that are watching this program now are asking themselves, "Well, what does more resources mean? Does that mean a better-looking campus? Does that mean support system around my child or my loved one?" What does that look like?
Vaquera: Particularly for Hispanics -- I´m a sociologist, and I´ve been doing research on Latinos, Hispanics in the United States and their relationship in the educational system -- we know that being engaged in those universities, feeling comfortable in those spaces where they go and study are really correlated. They are related to their chances of succeeding. So, particularly for Latinos, it´s important that we create context in which they feel they belong, they have like-minded peers and others, that they share their culture, they might share even their food, and they don´t feel like they are the only minority or one of the few students who come from different backgrounds, compared to the rest of their peers.
Traynham: So it sounds like, Elizabeth, what you´re saying is it´s creating the environment around the student that is a support system to allow them to thrive and also be their authentic self.
Vaquera: Exactly. And it´s also what we need to keep in mind. It´s not only about getting them grants, getting them money to attend those schools. Much of it is creating that support system that is around them and doing a process that is more holistic in how we think of going to college.
Traynham: Elizabeth, I kind of have to ask the question -- what about the haves and have-nots? Those are my words, not yours. With respect to some of the "less prestigious" colleges out there, they´re probably saying, "Well, wait a minute, how do I get the resources to make sure that our kids are able to succeed just as well as the prestigious schools?"
Vaquera: And this is exactly what we are trying to do from The George Washington University at the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute, is creating spaces where they feel comfortable, where they feel like their culture, their identity is represented. So, we are holding their hand, we are creating holistic approaches for them to succeed in college. So it´s not only about the academics, but it´s the personal, it´s the cultural side that is also catered to and is taken into consideration.
Traynham: We got about 30 seconds left, Elizabeth. I have to ask the question, as well, about the pipeline. Even before the kid gets into college -- let´s say they´re in middle school or in high school -- are you reaching out to those individuals?
Vaquera: Yes, we have a specific program that is for high school students. This is for rising seniors in high school. We are looking and we recruit students to spend part of the summer at the university. It´s an all-expenses-paid program at The George Washington University, where we teach them about the Latino community, we teach them all the cumbersome processes that it means to apply to a university, how to get prepared for those applications, the essay, et cetera. We do this as a fully-funded program so students of any socioeconomic position can apply and can enjoy these. And then, we set them on a good foot for them to succeed in this type of university.
Traynham: Well, I look forward to having you back, Dr. Vaquera, to talk more about your research. Thank you very much for joining us. Dr. Elizabeth Vaquera, director of the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute. And, of course, thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Robert Traynham.