There are constant rumors spread that Latino students, on the whole, are under-achievers. Racist and biased as this allegation is, one reason that there may be some truth to it is that there are fewer funds to assist Latino students, not merely to bring them into the mainstream, but to encourage them to continue their studies and prepare them for a brighter future than many of their parents may have had to look forward to.
A recent LA Times article told about Federal funds granted to Ventura College’s Santa Paula campus which claimed that the money was to be used to “boost” the educational performance of Latino students with new programs. What is interesting to note is that this seemed to have been a contest for the money, with Ventura College edging out 60 other schools- all community colleges.
Ventura College, with some 12,000 students, of whom 30% are Latino, was eligible for the funds because they were reserved for those schools that have at least 25% Latino students. As the article points out, the money will be spent on that the dean of students calls “gateway” courses in which Latino students usually under-perform, He listed algebra, accounting, pre-calculus and English composition. Her also explained that the college may have to use what he considers “non-traditional” instruction to bring Latino students up to speed.
Worthwhile as these funds are, and certainly the efforts on the part of Ventura College, what is bothersome is the underlying cause for under-=achievement by Latino students. Is it the language barrier? Is it the fact that high schools may merely have pushed them through four years to get rid of them> Is there some core problem about resisting learning? Unfair as this last question may be, perhaps one should examine the reaction to Latino student under=achievement in terms of what their future holds for them.
To begin with, the fact that a student is willing to matriculate at a community (or any other) college says something about his or her ambition. However, instructors- whether they are “traditional” or “non-traditional” need two important reasons for Latino (and any other minority) student to do better academically. First, there need to be role models in which the students have faith, and whom they recognize as having the same background and the same opportunities to make or break their own future. One has to eliminate professional athletes, of course, since their talents are physical and not mental, and all too few of those who feel they can earn millions playing ball or emulating Tiger Woods will ever even get close. The second major obstacle a teacher has to overcome with minority students is to eliminate their feelings of hopelessness. While many Latino friends of mine are determined to rise above the situation their families find themselves in, they lament that there are all too few opportunities. Forget the Federal guidelines for Equal Opportunity Employment: Anglos tend to get the better jobs, anyway. That is often the lament of even the most ambitious Latino students.
Latinos are mystified by the academic and professional success of the Asians. You won’t find this in career guidance sessions or in text books, but Latinos are envious of the high-paying jobs in Silicon valley and other computer companies for Asians. Are they cleverer? Do they have some sort of math-gene in their system, even at birth? Is it that their parents force them into studying harder and making more of their lives? The fact is, plain and simple, Latinos feel a racial bias, they even have an inferiority complex when they have to compete not only with Anglos but with other minorities. And so, many of them shrug their shoulders and give up.
One looks at where some of these Ventura College funds go: Algebra? Is this really important? One can guess that it is if the future career means computer technology. But, the only outstanding subject that REALLY matters is English composition. It is a sad fact that job resumes, filling out employment forms, even writing a college entrance essay is difficult for many who are bi- or even multi-lingual, and whose family life is hit and miss colloquialisms. These funds should help Latino students not merely WRITE, but THINK on their feet. Get asked a question, be prepared to provide a logical answer. Something that makes sense and makes you look good to a future employer, or your boss or co-worker.
As the articles states, most of the funds will go to the college’s Santa Paula (or “east”) campus, which is new, and now has 65% of its growing student body Latinos. Part of these funds will be spent on a new library and research center, on more computers, and medical assistant training classes. I wonder whether a nearly all-white community college offers “medical-assistant training classes”? Why not prepare a Latino student for possible entry into a pre-med course, or veterinary or dental course? “Medical assistant” is the sort of “course” one sees advertised on TV by schools like Bryman and others, which take minority money and turn them out, ready to sit at a desks and answer phones or file, with little or no future. I, for one, would like to see some of the funds spent on motivational courses, bring in those “stars” who talk about “Dare to be Great” or how to succeed by really trying. Federal money spent on Latinos whose future ends up being a receptionist, or doing valet parking or becoming an orderly in a hospital is not wise spending for the future. Why even bother to go to a community college if your future is limited merely because you are considered an under-achieving minority?
Kelly, David: “Grant To Assist Latino Students” LA TIMES, Sept. 1, 2001