Do Hispanics Need More Higher Education Help? (Anyway, You're Paying For It.)

Last week while I was researching my column "Immigrant Influx Now Threatening California's Colleges," I stumbled upon the most amazing report issued by the Los Angeles-based Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI).

According to the TRPI March 2004 study titled "Caught in the Financial Aid Information Divide,"[Ms word document] Hispanic high school students who may be considering college and their parents are "hampered" by lack of financial aid awareness.

The report whines that not enough scholarship information is made available to Hispanic families. Hence, Hispanics are denied a fair shot at college, since they cannot afford to attend without financial aid.

But as a teacher in California's Lodi Unified School District, I say: bunk. This study is such abject nonsense that it makes all the other tripe that you have read about barriers to Hispanic academic success look almost intelligent.

Let's begin at the beginning. The Tomas Rivera Policy Institute has a very high opinion of itself, that's for sure. Affiliated with the University of Southern California's School of Policy, Planning and Development and with Columbia University's School of Social and Economic Research and Policy, TRPI claims to have "attained a reputation as the 'nation's premier Latino think tank.'"

Maybe…considering the competition. [Email the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.] But no one could ever prove it from this absurd collection of findings. The report was commissioned by the Sallie Mae Fund—an arm of the "Government Sponsored Entity" that shovels out taxpayer-subsidized loans, just like the notorious immigration-boosting "Mortgage Monsters" Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It was based on telephone conversations with 1,200 Hispanic parents of 18-24 year-olds and a separate sample of 1,200 Hispanic adults.

To avoid boring you to death, I'll summarize:

  • 75 percent of Hispanic college "potentials" indicated that they would have been more likely to attend if they have received "better information on financial aid."

  • More than two thirds of Hispanic parents and 56 percent of Hispanic college students did not receive any financial aid information during the K-12 period.

  • 43 percent of all Hispanic young adults surveyed and 51% of Hispanic parents could not name a single source of college financial aid.

  • 51 percent of Hispanic parents and 38% of Hispanic K-12 students would prefer to receive all financial information in Spanish.

Here's the rub: the data is totally inconsistent with everything that I have personally observed about Hispanic prospective college students and their awareness of financial aid.

Graduating seniors know about every dime available to them—right down to the $100 given by the local pizzeria to the "Most Deserving Student."

Think about it. High-school counselors inundate deserving students with information. Bulletin boards post scholarship applications. Most school districts have career centers that also push hard to get good kids into college.

Local libraries stock volumes of handbooks on how to apply for scholarships. At www.amazon.com, a search for "College Scholarships" turned up 37,143 books to chose from.

Narrowing the search to "College Scholarships +Hispanic" still returns 8,986 choices.

If a prospective college student wants to research his scholarship options, a Google search for "High School  +Hispanic Scholarship" yields 196,000 returns.

College and university websites are treasure troves of funding options. TRPI's own partners, USC and Columbia, have links to financial aid information.

According to TRPI, only 13 percent of parents and 15 percent of students want to access financial aid data from the Internet. But even if that is true, it doesn't mean interested parties can't go online to get information—especially if, as the report claims, it is unavailable elsewhere.

The TRPI would have us believe that a significant percentage of qualified Hispanic high school seniors never hear a peep from anyone—teachers, counselors, administrators and peers—about financial aid. And we are further expected to assume that in the information age, few of those high school seniors would consider doing an Internet search for scholarship sources—including visiting the website of the college of their choice.

That's a tough sell.

How could the august Tomas Rivera Policy Institute with its "network of nationally recognized scholars" go so far wrong?

My thoughts:

  • The only students who might be as uninformed as the TRPI suggests would be low performing students essentially disengaged in the K-12 process. When the TRPI writes about a "potential" college student, does it mean the truly qualified? Or does "potential" include the most marginal and struggling students who will be lucky to graduate?

    If the TRPI includes the latter, then that kid may be under-informed. But—and this is important—he could still easily access financial aid information with a simple inquiry to his counselor or by logging onto his computer.


  • The TRPI methodology is badly flawed. On behalf of the Sallie Mae Fund, Harris Interactive telephoned parents using the Random Digit Dial method. For the 18-24 populations, it used targeted age sample. Take it from someone who has telephoned parents and students in limited English language homes, communication can be difficult—no matter what language you are speaking in. Even when I have used teaching aides fluent in the home language to speak to parents, conveying a concern or extracting information is extremely challenging.

But, flawed logic or not, the bottom line is that we're in for another dog and pony show. This fall, the Sallie Mae Fund, having got what it paid for in the form of further proof of the need for its existence, will launch a nationwide 20-city bus tour to host 135 "Paying for College" workshops. Forty of the sessions will be in Spanish.

And of course Sallie Mae will distribute materials in Spanish to middle school and high school teachers and guidance counselors about scholarships. Remember that all this information is already widely available from scores of sources.

Sallie Mae concludes its "response" to the Harris Interactive findings with this brazen statement:

"Encouragingly, nearly 90 percent of survey respondents (Hispanics) indicated that a college education is 'very important' for success in today's world, as compared to 65 percent of all young adults, according to the Harris Poll."

But if education is really "very important" to Hispanics, then how can Sallie Mae explain the very high dropout rate—about 45 percent—of Hispanic high school students? (Ask Sallie Mae).

And how can we reconcile this alleged belief that education is "very important" with the fact that even the better high school graduates, who do attend college, need a shocking number of remedial courses? Read my last column for the painful details.

As an educator, my naïve belief is that when students think education is "very important," they prove it—by a] opening their textbooks and b] studying.

That will get them further in life than looking for the next free (i.e. taxpayer-funded) lunch – even when it's pressed on them by Treason Lobby bureaucrats.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.