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It was recently my honor to accept, on behalf of American Student Assistance, the Outstanding Private Sector Partner award from the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities at their annual conference in San Antonio. The conference was an outstanding event and it reminded me of just how critical it is for our entire nation that Hispanics access and succeed in higher education and beyond.
ASA President John Zurick (right) accepting the HACU Outstanding Private Sector Partner award
As the youngest and fastest growing population in the United States today, Latinos are essential to the future of our economy. Our nation cannot achieve its education or economic goals without more Hispanics accessing, completing and successfully paying for higher education.
The good news is Hispanics are attending college at a higher rate than ever before in our nation’s history. The Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy reports that in 2012, 2.4 million Hispanics enrolled in college, making up almost 20 percent of total college-goers.
More Hispanic college students means more are borrowing to cover the cost of their education, given the high costs of college today and the fact that many Hispanic families lack the means to pay for school out of pocket. According to the think tank Demos, 87 percent of undergraduate Latino students attending private higher education institutions borrow and 63 percent borrow at public institutions. Further, Hispanics at private institutions borrow on average $36,000 for a bachelor’s degree – more than any other ethnicity.
Bachelor recipients will be in a better position to retire that debt, but the ones who acquired the debt but no degree won’t be as lucky. Demos reports that 31 percent of Latino students drop out of college. Meanwhile, a new report from the Center for American Progress finds that only 16 percent of Latino young adults have bachelor’s degrees, less than the 21 percent of African American young adults with degrees and far below the 43 percent level of white young adults and the 63 percent level of Asian young adults.
So it’s no surprise many Hispanics regret owing so much for their education. A Pew Charitable Trusts survey found that 52 percent of Hispanics – more than blacks or whites – would find a different way to pay for school, so they owed less, if given the chance to make borrowing decisions again.
Even more alarming, Hispanics often turn to riskier private student loans over federal, indicating they may find the paperwork associated with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) overwhelming.
As Amilcar Guzman wrote in the Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, “Latinos are taking out riskier loans at a higher interest rate than their counterparts, creating scenarios where they will be paying back more money over a longer period of time. This leads to adverse effects on young Latinos’ ability to achieve the symbols of the American dream, such as purchasing a home, starting a family, or opening a small business.”
Which brings us back to where I started this blog post – – in the years ahead, Hispanic success will be American success. The U.S. cannot remain globally competitive unless its fastest-growing population can successfully complete college and thrive as consumers in our economy. When Hispanics delay the American dream, it has a ripple effect on all Americans.
We can help. American Student Assistance is committed to working with HACU and its member institutions. Over the past few years, we’ve partnered with 39 HACU members in 14 different states to bring our Salt financial education and debt management tools to nearly 800,000 students and alumni.
In our home state of Massachusetts, 21 percent of the visitors to our College Planning Centers (which offer free assistance with planning and paying for college) are Hispanic, while 87 percent are non-white. We’re continuously working to make the content on our digital platform, saltmoney.org, as well as all of our online Salt personal finance courses, available in English and Spanish. We know that while Hispanic college students are fluent in English, many family members may not be. And at Salt, we know that paying for college is often a family affair. So we must financially empower the whole family, not just the student.
As well, we offer bilingual student loan counselors via phone or live chat; we deliver in-person workshops and seminars to Hispanic students, like the Financial Literacy Boot Camp as part of the recent HACU conference’s Student Track; and, our Salt scholarship search engine includes scholarship opportunities specifically for Hispanics.
In the months and years ahead, we aim to substantially increase our Salt service to the first generation, low income and minority students who need help the most. We’re working to partner with even more Hispanic–serving institutions, employers, nonprofits, and government entities to eliminate finance as a barrier to education for Latinos throughout the United States. College is the gateway to the American dream; let’s make sure that dream is an equal opportunity for all.