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Latino Student Education and Arizona's Future

Author: Gonzalo A. de la Melena, Jr., President and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The pipeline to the future of Arizona’s economic success leads directly through our state’s education system and its fast-growing Latino community.

Today, nearly 50 percent of the students in Arizona’s K-12 schools are Hispanic, while the state’s overall Latino population is well above 30 percent and expected to reach majority status in about one generation. 

Because a good education is one of the strongest indicators of a person’s financial success, it stands to reason in an era in which a majority of the state’s population will one day be Latino that in order to foster the state’s overall economic prosperity we must find a way to ensure that every student in Arizona is well educated.

This is only one reason why the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the state’s premier advocate for Latino business owners, has partnered with the Helios Education Foundation over the years to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship funding and related assistance to deserving college-bound Latinos.

Thanks in large part to the support of Helios, the AZHCC has provided individual and renewable $5,000 scholarships for incoming juniors at public universities statewide, as part of the Chamber’s Emerging Business Leaders Initiative (EBLI). The EBLI fosters educational support from high school through college graduation and beyond. The support we receive from Helios goes toward scholarships and to cover the cost of wrap-around support services provided by College Success Arizona, a state-of-the-art program that focuses on boosting educational attainment among first-generation college students.

We know a good education changes lives and builds communities. And we also know that our increasingly high-tech and globally linked economy will demand even greater career skills in the years to come. Fully two-thirds of all jobs in the U.S., according to a Georgetown University study, will require more than a high school education by 2020.

The good news is that high school and college graduation gaps between Latino and non-Latino students are beginning to close. Unfortunately, that gap is not closing fast enough. The latest U.S. Census American Community Survey finds that 43 percent of working-age Americans have an associate degree or higher. In Arizona, about 38 percent have attained that level of education. “The biggest reason for this discrepancy,” according to Helios [other education experts concur], “can be attributed to the large, degree achievement gap for Arizona’s Latino students.”

Stated another way, Arizona, which ranks near the bottom of the pack in terms of per capita student education funding, has room to improve by decreasing the achievement gap for the Latino student population in comparison to non-Latino students. How fast is the Latino population growing? While immigration rates have slowed in overall growth in recent years, Arizona’s Hispanic population tripled between 1990 and 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And it will keep growing comparatively fast, especially given that fully 95 percent of Latino schoolchildren in Arizona today are U.S. citizens.

In the face of these trends, a 2012 Arizona State University Morrison Public Policy Institute report, “Dropped? Latino Education and Arizona’s Economic Future”, spelled out the potentially dire consequences of not addressing this issue. According to the report, “…Our fastest-growing population group – still struggle against barriers to educational achievement that keep them lagging well behind the state’s White population in educational performance. This imbalance represents a grave threat to Arizona’s future economic health.”

Every Arizona student deserves every opportunity our education system can offer them, but the state’s leaders, parents and educators must acknowledge that our demographic destiny will play a critical role in determining our state’s economic success or failure.

The reason we stand behind the goals of the Helios Education Foundation’s Arizona Latino Student Success Initiative is because we know that finally closing the gap between Latino and non-Latino educational success is good for all Arizonans.

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