It’s that time of year, when your child or your neighbor’s child finds out if that they’ve been accepted to the college of their dreams. When those who had the drive, energy, support, and resources successfully applied to colleges. This lucky group will have an answer before the first flowers of Spring appear in our backyards. Here, in Westchester County it is a heady time! Visions of a college future filled with promise and opportunities. But some of our neighbors are not quite as fortunate. Sometimes having a dream and aspiration is not enough.
No one can dispute the importance of attaining of a college education in America. By 2020 64% of jobs will require some type of postsecondary education. However, America will not be able to meet that requirement if current college completion rates persist. America’s education crisis is driven by the fact that only 41% of Americans, 25 – 34 years of age have completed a college degree. Among ethnic groups the numbers are even lower, especially among Latinos where only 19% hold a college degree.
Latinos are the largest and fastest growing minority population in the US. They represent 50% of our nation’s growth in the last year. This is a young population with 17.1 million under the age of 17, representing 24% of public school students. In many schools, that percentage is much higher. The academic success of Latino youth is essential to our nation’s future.
Latino youth and their families value education. “90% of middle and high school Latino students say they plan to go to college. What they often lack is the experience, information and resources needed to successfully participate in the process,” said Shirley Acevedo Buontempo, Founder and Executive Director of a new, Westchester based, non-profit organization, Latino U College Access, Inc. “Most students, especially first-generation Latino students go through the college application process entirely on their own, and often under-apply or don’t take the risk of applying,” she emphasizes.
Ms. Acevedo Buontempo, a Somers resident, is a bilingual, first-generation Latina from Puerto Rico, founded Latino U College Access to address the inequity and lack of access to expensive college preparatory resources that many Latino students face. The goal of Latino U is to provide students with the support and preparation they need to achieve their dreams of being the first in their families to go to college.
A recent study by Stanford University indicated that “the growing racial enrollment gap is driven by changes in the college application – admission – and enrollment process.” The complexity of the process is not the only barrier first generation Latino students face. Their parents’ limited English language skills, low education levels and lack of understanding of the American education system, add to the student’s sense that they are on their own during this important stage of their lives.
Latino U College Access has conducted a series of programs and services for students and their families. Spanish language community presentations will cover topics such as “Creating a Path to College”, “Admissions 101” , “Paying for College,” and “Success in College”. In addition the organization will host SAT / ACT workshops, essay writing sessions and application boot camps. Community volunteer “college coaches” and volunteer mentors will guide and support the students on an ongoing basis.
The Ossining Public Library and Ossining HS have collaborated with Latino U and hosted programs in their facilities. In January, the Ossining Library hosted a spanish language financial aid workshop titled " Paying For College" and on March 2, a FAFSA workshop will be hosted at the Ossining HS Computer Lab. Latino U has also hosted information sessions at the Mt. Kisco Library and at Fox Lane HS. These sessions, given in Spanish have drawn over 150 attendees. Parents and students eager to receive information and learn how they can help their children have a better future.
“This is a much needed service for the Latino community”, exclaims Eridania Camacho, Assistant Director of The Gateway Center and President of the Board at Latino U. “Students and families will now have the resources they need to help get their children into college,” she said. “Latino students will now have access and opportunities they’ve never been able to obtain or afford before,” concludes Ms. Buontempo, “”they will have a chance to make their college dreams come true and bring hope to their families and communities.”