North Philadelphia: Summit Discusses Education Problems in Hispanic Community

The panel of White House officials took notes on discussion topics.

White House officials attended a summit held at Temple University’s Howard Gittis Student Center, joining area residents and professionals to discuss issues facing the Hispanic community in education, especially higher education.

The summit, hosted last weekend by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, is one of many similar meetings staged around the country to encourage community participation around educational standards and availability to the Hispanic population.

Hispanic students are the largest minority in the United States, representing one of every five students. In kindergarten, one in four students is Hispanic.

With the cost of college reaching an all-time high the opportunity to achieve the American dream and improve one’s social standing no longer seems possible to many.

José A. Rico, the executive director of the initiative, said, “This is the most important issue.”

Smita Mathur, an assistant professor at the University of Southern Florida, added that education is the single most important tool to overcome any experience in life.

“You can lose any asset,” Mathur said, “but you can’t lose an education.”

The Hispanic community has lost many of its financial assets during the recession.

Rico said the “recession has impacted the Hispanic community more than any other. Sixty percent of all wealth was lost in the Hispanic community.”

This includes such things as investments, savings, homes, properties and retirement funds. In practice, paying for college tuition is beyond the means many Hispanics can now afford.

More than half of the Hispanic students who graduate high school need remedial courses. Since the remedial courses are not college level, the students do not qualify for many forms of financial aid.

Mathur explained part of the problem is we hold the child accountable for his or her education when it is the community and family that must be empowered to aid in the education of their children.

Professor Smita Mathur spoke at the summit.

“A king is important in his kingdom but a teacher is empowering wherever they stand. Don’t choose to be a king, be a teacher,” Mathur stressed.

Rico explained that part of the issue is different states have different educational standards with Texas having the lowest and California the highest. If students from the Texas school system were to move to California they would find themselves unprepared.

A solution, set to take effect next year, is that 40 states have agreed to adopt common core education standards.

Cutbacks in education funding have resulted in a loss of teachers for Hispanic students in grades K-12. With insufficient funds, schools have laid off the most inexperienced or youngest teachers who were typically those assigned to the students held to the lowest standard, the Hispanic students.

But Mathur said he’s seen funding for education “coming back.”

Only 13 percent of Hispanic families in the United States have had a family member go to college. Their unfamiliarity with the process can leave many Hispanic applicants confused and disheartened by rising sticker prices or the posted tuition cost.

Recent changes have opened new options. Federal funding of education is also now at its highest levels. The government has reduced the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form 60 percent with one notable addition.

The FAFSA now shows how much money the student will pay each semester for tuition.

José A. Rico and David Lett participated in a discussion.

Rico explained an Hispanic family may earn only $20,000 a year, which is the same as the cost to attend some colleges for a year. But with federal aid, grants, financial aid and loans the child of such a family may not have to pay any money at all while attending college.

The government has increased the limit on Pell grants by $1,000 per year, lowered student loan interest and the amount of loan money repaid each year has also lowered to 10 percent.

Under certain circumstances, individuals making minimum loan repayments for 10 years and working in certain fields can have their loan become a grant meaning it is considered paid.

In Pennsylvania, higher education funding has received cuts for the last two years while federal funding has increased. “To us, that makes absolutely no sense,” Rico explained.

At the end of the summit, participants submitted the results of their discussion to the White House officials. Participants’ progress in achieving the solutions envisioned will be monitored with the hope of applying the most successful on a national level.

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