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More Than Half Of Latinos Surveyed Say Applying To College Wasn't Discussed With Them


More than half of Latinos in the U.S. say applying to college was never discussed with them. This is according to a new survey that NPR conducted with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Researchers interviewed people from different racial and ethnic groups to gauge how discrimination affects their daily lives at home, in school and at work. Shereen Marisol Meraji of NPR's Code Switch team has more.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Fifty-two percent of Latino respondents said applying to college was never discussed while growing up. Now, that's compared to about a third of both black and white respondents.

CENDY VIDES: I could identify. I'm the first one in my family to go to college.

MERAJI: That's Cendy Vides. She's a 31-year-old immigrant from El Salvador. She made the trek with a coyote when she was 8 years old to reunite with her mom in the U.S.

VIDES: The most education she had was, like, up to fifth grade in El Salvador. So college was not an expectation in my family.

MERAJI: But 17-year-old Jasmine Salazar says that 52 percent seems really high. She was born here and grew up in the majority-Latino Boyle Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles.

JASMINE SALAZAR: In our community, college is something really stressed about. Maybe not, like, the exact pathways to get to a four-year or a community college are expressed, but the idea that they want all of us to at least go to college.

MERAJI: Jasmine says her mom finished high school. Her dad didn't. He works long hours and, when he's home, loves to give this speech to Jasmine and her younger siblings.

SALAZAR: Don't end up in a factory like me. Work for your education. Get somewhere. Be somebody in life. He gives us that speech a lot.

MERAJI: How often?

SALAZAR: Maybe at least two times a month.

MERAJI: A closer look at the data may explain the difference between Vides and Salazar. A majority of the respondents who said applying to college was never discussed were immigrants like Vides and over 30. But Jeff Duncan-Andrade, a veteran teacher and professor of raza studies at San Francisco State, says the survey question itself is problematic. Here's the question - when you were growing up, were you encouraged to apply to college, discouraged from applying, or was this never discussed? Andrade asks, are we talking about at home? At school? Both? And how do we fix the problem? Do we talk to families?

JEFF DUNCAN-ANDRADE: And of course the answer is yes, but, like, to what degree, right? And then to what degree are schools actually delivering on their promise of providing all students with a pathway to college and career?

MERAJI: In California, where Latino kids make up the majority of public schools, the ratio of students to counselors is about 650 to 1. The national ratio is even worse. Andrade says even if you could reach every first-gen Latino student to say, apply to college, that's not enough.

DUNCAN-ANDRADE: In white, middle class and wealthy college-going culture, they don't just talk to their kids about college, right? There's a whole layer of activities. There's a norming of the process. And there's a whole boatload of resources that come behind the talk.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: When you get to the question...

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Looking at the chart.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Underline the important information. What do you do with the important information that you underlined?

MERAJI: It's a Tuesday in October, and I'm in an ACT prep class with 15 high school juniors, all Latino, all from low-income families like 17-year-old Norma Vidal.

NORMA VIDAL: For juniors we have ACT prep at least two times a week. And then we have junior advisory, which we discuss, like, your passions and start talking about, like, more personal stuff for our personal statements. And then we also have tutoring.

MERAJI: That's on top of meet-ups with parents to discuss the college application process, financial aid, scholarships. We're at College Track in Boyle Heights, and it's where I sat down to interview Jasmine Salazar and Cendy Vides. It's a free after-school program and works with local high school students from their freshman year through college graduation. Vides is the operations manager and works closely with students' families.

VIDES: Our program, College Track, comes to these specific communities where we know that there's a need because here in Boyle Heights, only 5 percent of the population has a four-year degree.

MERAJI: Ninety-seven percent of Boyle Heights College Track participants have gone on to four-year colleges. And as you can see, College Track does a lot more than talk about applying to college. But right now, the Boyle Heights site has enough resources to help about 15 percent - that's one-five percent - of the local high school kids. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KANYE WEST SONG, "SAINT PABLO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shereen Marisol Meraji is the co-host and senior producer of NPR's Code Switch podcast. She didn't grow up listening to public radio in the back seat of her parent's car. She grew up in a Puerto Rican and Iranian home where no one spoke in hushed tones, and where the rhythms and cadences of life inspired her story pitches and storytelling style. She's an award-winning journalist and founding member of the pre-eminent podcast about race and identity in America, NPR's Code Switch. When she's not telling stories that help us better understand the people we share this planet with, she's dancing salsa, baking brownies or kicking around a soccer ball.