April 7, 2006

Few Latino Males Pursue a College Education

By José A. Álvarez

Since he was a child, Andres Malfavon knew he was going to go to college. His parents had instilled in him and his older brother the importance of getting a college education. He could not let them down.

“My parents have always been my strongest influence,” said Malfavon, 22 and a Marketing major at Southwestern College. “Having an education is extremely important if you want to succeed in life,” added the Tijuana native who will soon be transferring to San Diego State University, his brother’s alma matter.

The encouragement from Malfavon’s parents and the example set by his older brother are two of the ingredients needed to alleviate a crisis occurring on college campuses across California and the nation: the under representation of Latino males in higher education.

“There should be as many men as there are women,” said Dr. Gerardo Gonzalez, Director of the National Latino Research Center at California State University in San Marcos. Dr. Gonzalez and Dr. Bill Piland, professor emeritus of Post-Secondary Education at SDSU, were panelists at a recent forum sponsored by Southwestern College and titled Unacknowledged Crisis: The Lack of African-American and Latino Males in Higher Education. During the 90-minute forum, the two experts tackled the issue of racial and gender disparities on college campuses across the U.S. and discussed the actions needed to reverse this trend.

“Parents need to talk to their children about their alternatives for getting an education. We also need more role models in our communities,” added Dr. Gonzalez, explaining that the problem begins in high school and is particularly severe in the Hispanic community because a lot of Latino students attend schools that do not receive sufficient funding. “If we allocate more resources, we will see more changes and we’ll see more people going to college.”

College campuses across the nation are experiencing a lack of male representation as the number of female students supersedes their male counterparts. Enrollment trends show that women account for about 56 percent of the student population. The downtrend, according to Dr. Piland, began in the late 1970s and 80s as the number of male college students in the United States dropped from 55 percent in 1975 to 43 percent in 2003.

“That’s a big turn around,” said Dr. Piland, adding that one of the reasons for the downward spiral was that “more women began to realize there were many more opportunities available and began to take advantage of them.”

The gender disparities are more severe among African-American college students and worse among the Latino student population.

Nationally, about 25 percent of college-age (18 to 24) black men attended college in 2000. By contrast, 35 percent of black women in the same age group and 36 percent of all 18 to 24 year-olds were attending college.

Latino males are also underrepresented at institutions of higher education. In California, between 2002-2004, Latino males represented only 8 percent of Californians with higher education degrees. In comparison, Latino females represented 13 percent, white males 20 percent and white females 28 percent of Californians with higher-education degrees.

Dr. Piland attributed the racial and gender disparities to “institutional racism and academic snobbery” in colleges and universities.

The way classes are structured and taught, he said, does not match the learning styles of African-American and Latino males, who tend to learn through interpersonal relationships. Another problem, Dr. Piland added, is that colleges and universities tend to rely too much on the results of standardized tests and there is not much diversity in the administrations of colleges and universities.

“We need to change the policies and move away from test scores because we know that standardized tests have built-on biases and are not good predictors of success,” said Dr. Piland, adding that what is also needed is to change the way classes are taught and the way students are evaluated.

Most important than that, he stated, is the need to start talking to students early about pursuing a college education. “Otherwise,” Dr. Piland concluded, “were going to see these inequalities forever.”

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