In recent years, Latinos have made significant gains in education. For example, they are now graduating from high school at higher rates, and their dropout rates are lower than ever before. Moreover, Latinos are enrolling in higher education in record numbers -- surpassing their white and African-American counterparts.
Through a mix of policies and substantive initiatives, President Obama spurred forward the improvement of Latino education. During his eight years in office, he focused his efforts on areas that are often cited as having the most potential to improve Latino education, such as developing standards that helped ensure Latinos are ready for college and career, ending bullying in schools and communities, closing for-profit institutions that prey on vulnerable students, and providing college graduates relief from the burden of student loans.
Under the Trump administration, however, all of this progress toward improving the educational and career outcomes of Latino students is in danger of stalling and -- much worse -- reverting back to the disastrous educational attainment rates of the 1970s.
Here is just some of what is at stake.
Federal student aid. The previous administration made substantial contributions to bolster the federal student aid system. Pell Grants -- the signature federal aid program -- provided increased access to higher education for millions of Latino and low-income students across the country. In addition, the Obama administration worked to ease the burden of student loans through initiatives that reward students for their commitment to public service. President Trump’s recent actions have put these advancements in jeopardy through proposed reductions in federal student aid and the reversal of protections for student borrowers.
The 2018 budget proposal that the Trump administration released this week calls for the elimination of the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program -- the recipients of which are usually Pell-eligible students -- and cuts the Federal Work-Study program by nearly half. Such measures could significantly restrict access to education for Latinos and other low-income and minority students.
DACA and DAPA. In June 2012, Obama signed an executive order on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which provides immigrant youth relief from deportation and an opportunity to secure employment. In November 2014, he also announced Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, intended to provide older immigrants the opportunity to earn a work permit and stay in the United States for up to three years. Both of these programs have the opportunity to impact the lives of millions of immigrants. To date, Trump has not canceled either of these programs but has spoken of potential abuses to DACA and appeared conflicted about it. Uncertainty looms over what will happen in the coming months, leaving students to fear what the future holds.
Campus climate. During his time in office, Obama worked diligently to end bullying and make sure that students felt safe in their schools and communities. Through those efforts, he raised the profile of this long-standing issue and initiated long-term solutions.
Since the last election, however, K-12 schools across the country have reported incidents that threaten the well-being of students. For example, in a Texas high school, students chanted “build the wall” during a volleyball match. And in many schools, there is continuing fear and anxiety among Latino children and racial and ethnic tensions. The consequences can be serious: research indicates that bullying negatively impacts educational attainment and is often linked to lower school achievement.
On college campuses across the country, many undergraduates are feeling a similar sense of fear and have been victims of similar incidents. Research indicates that women, low-income and minority students often face a chilly climate -- one filled with microaggressions and other psychologically damaging racist and sexist acts. In recent years, scholars and practitioners have worked to shed light on those acts and improve the situation for all students. But numerous acts of discrimination have continued to erupt over the past months on campuses across the country. Against this divisive backdrop, how will we ensure that all students feel safe and supported so that they can then thrive in and out of the classroom?
For-profit institutions. One of the key features of Obama’s higher education legacy is his enduring work to crack down on for-profit institutions. Such institutions are notorious for aggressively recruiting low-income, minority and otherwise vulnerable students without providing the appropriate supports to ensure their success. Under the new administration, it is highly likely that for-profit institutions will again return to prominence -- Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, has close ties to the for-profit industry and has hinted at rolling back regulations for the industry. That will, in turn risk the futures of millions of Latinos, low-income students and veterans. If that were to happen, how will we ensure that such vulnerable student populations are gainfully employed upon completing their degrees?
All the policies that I’ve described will have implications not only for Latinos but also for our nation as a whole. Latinos are the fastest-growing population in the country as well as the youngest. If we do not stand up and ensure that Latinos have the educational supports and resources necessary to succeed, what will our country look like in the coming decades? We will not be “making America great again.” We will be taking our country backward to the late 1940s and 1950s, when marginalized groups were fighting for basic rights -- like access to an education.
University administrators and policy makers all have a role to play in ensuring that that Latino students feel supported during these difficult times. Institutional leaders can establish campuswide initiatives such as dialogues on diversity to ensure that all students feel comfortable and supported as they pursue their education. They can also provide direct support to students through safe spaces and diversity training so that more students can expand their view of the world and the importance of different viewpoints. And policy makers can and should advocate for effective policies that will support Latino students throughout K-12 and postsecondary education. Through such efforts, we will be able to improve Latino higher education in the United States and ultimately improve the future of our nation.