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Latino Parents Often Lack College-Entry Savvy

Study: Parental language barriers and a lack of information are keeping some youths off campus, says research from the Tomas Rivera Institute.


Making sense of the college admissions scramble--SAT, early decision, financial aid forms--is enough to frustrate any parent.

But that challenge is compounded when parents don't speak English or when their child is the first in the family to attend college, as is the case with many Latinos, according to a study released Thursday by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute's Center for Latino Educational Excellence.

About two-thirds of 1,000 Latino parents surveyed in Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago failed a test about the college admissions process sponsored by the Claremont-based institute. That lack of knowledge means lower college acceptance and graduation rates, said researchers, who have urged schools to start providing college-preparation information in middle school and to hire more bilingual counselors.

To pass the eight-question test, parents had to know, among other things, that community colleges do not offer bachelor's degrees, that legal residents who are not citizens can receive financial aid and that the SAT--not the GRE--is required for many undergraduate college admissions.

Although the majority incorrectly answered at least half of the questions, about 96% of the parents surveyed still expected their children to go to college or a university.

"This drives a dagger through that stereotype that Latino parents aren't interested in their kids going to college," said Harry P. Pachon, president of the institute, which is affiliated with the Claremont Graduate University and the University of Texas. "But between that aspiration and the actuality of Latinos attending college, there's quite a big gap."

Families' lack of knowledge about admissions means fewer students qualify to attend college.

About 24% of Latino high school graduates have taken courses that the University of California and Cal State University systems require, Pachon said.

In contrast, nearly 60% of Asian students make themselves eligible for admission by taking the right classes, along with 28% of black graduates and 41% of white graduates, according to state statistics.

The study did not include parents of other ethnic groups for comparisons because of a lack of institute resources, officials said. But a senior researcher, Lou Tornatzky, said that Latinos who speak English fluently and have household incomes of more than $35,000 scored at least twice as high as those who spoke only Spanish and whose families earn less.

Some students who don't have information about scholarships and financial aid are discouraged from attending even if they are accepted, Pachon said.

The study's implications go beyond the Latino community, he said. "How can we stay competitive as a state when the majority of our population is being channeled into limited-education jobs?"

The results highlight the need for schools to work harder to provide information, said a Los Angeles Unified School District board member, Jose Huizar, at a presentation of the study Thursday in downtown Los Angeles.

"Right now it's pretty random," he said. "Many of our Latinos who go on to college are only there because they happened to talk to that special teacher or counselor who inspired them."

Middle schools should provide information about the college admissions process and required college preparatory classes, and high schools should hire more bilingual guidance counselors, Pachon said.

Colleges should offer guidance beyond tours and brochures about their own campuses, said Louis Caldera, a vice chancellor in the Cal State system. The system started this year to distribute fliers in Spanish and English that list ways parents can prepare their children for college.

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