Locking Low-Income Hispanics Out

Locking Low-Income Hispanics Out:

Should STEM programs invest in advertisement geared toward the Hispanic population?

By: Shannen Garza

Mauricio’s tie is crooked. While there is assumingly a meaningful story behind why Mauricio has not yet fully accomplished the skill of tying a tie, there’s no time to ask. Another student helps him readjust his wardrobe, and the two walk through the hallway to a large board room where Mauricio is scheduled to give a speech in front of several managers in his department.

Mauricio is many things: an immigrant from El Salvador, a senior high school student in the low-income neighborhoods of the East End of Houston, and now, an IT intern at a Fortune 500 energy company where he has almost completed a year-long internship.

Is the professionally-dressed Mauricio the new face of the young Hispanic population of Houston, Texas? Seemingly not. In 2013, Houston’s overall high school graduation rate reached 79%, while the average for Hispanic students, who make up 62% of the population, only graduated at a rate of 66%. On a national level, Hispanics attending four-year universities graduate at a rate of 51%, compared to 59% of white students. Rates are particularly low in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs, in which 16% of Hispanic students who enrolled completed their college degree within six years.

While the explanations for this ethnicity gap in university level STEM programs cover a wide spectrum of intricate barriers faced by young Hispanics pursuing education, a prominent barrier mentioned by many academic researchers is the lack of familiarity with STEM programs and careers in low-income neighborhoods. A student’s awareness of these pathways is gained by a precedent developed through the work other family members have acquired in their lifetime, which don’t often require education. In these cases, students must rely on outside sources to inform them of other opportunities as well as to expose them to meaningful contacts and networking possibilities that may open doors to collegiate opportunities. 

So where is this information in their schools?  Why are there no college recruiters striding down the hallways of low-income schools?

Historically, universities have made fewer visits to schools that low-income students attend. Prestigious universities visiting low-income neighborhoods remain even more of a rarity. While many of these schools hold college and career fairs, they are more popularly visited by technical schools, beauty schools, and two-year colleges.

So how did Mauricio steal an opportunity to participate in a corporate internship at 17 years old if prominent colleges and corporations rarely brave setting foot on his school’s campus? Luckily, many college access programs are developing around the country with the hopes of increasing access to college and career information for low-income students.

As Mauricio gives his speech, he mentions his original plans to become a mechanic just like his father until his current internship program one day gave a presentation during his class. However, a large number of low income students across the US complete their high school careers without any intervention from newly-developed third party programs such as that which Mauricio was lucky enough to join. Efforts to alter pathways for inner-city students must stem from not only non-profit organizations and public schools, but the higher education institutions themselves.

If universities were more present at low-income public schools, this would make them more accessible to the students and increase awareness of the programs. These visits could also be used as a way to encourage STEM fields as possibilities for the Hispanic population, which contains a large number of young people to fill widening gaps of need in STEM career fields. By establishing more frequent visits, distributing informational materials, and making students knowledgeable of skills needed to pursue STEM careers, interest and success for Hispanics in such degree programs can increase.

In order to build a world in which students like Mauricio can be the new face of the Hispanic population, higher education programs must reach out to low-income neighborhoods and expose them to the opportunities they offer to be successful. By advertising their programs and the careers that are open after completing a degree, universities can increase their own academic diversity and build stronger and healthier lifestyles for Hispanics across the US.