Safety net aids Latino students
“By the end of this decade, 2 in 3 job openings will require some higher education. And, yet, we still live in a country where too many bright striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. It is not fair to them and is sure not smart for our future.”
President Barack Obama uttered those prophetic words during his 2015 State of the Union address, describing an initiative for future students attending community colleges at no cost.
Fifty years ago, higher education was a luxury, viewed as a supplement to a growing industrial labor market requiring only a high school diploma for a livable wage. But such jobs have steadily declined, while higher-skills positions have spiraled.
For many Latinos, the cost of college is out of reach, even when they qualify for financial aid. A labyrinth of forms, academic research styles, even collaborative and accelerated readings become overwhelming for students unprepared for college.
As someone who attended community college, I must acknowledge that assimilating into the academic environment was crucial in helping me grow intellectually and prepare socially for university life. After attaining my associate degree, I transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, earning my Bachelor of Arts in political science and history. Later, I was admitted to UTSA, earning a Master of Arts in history.
I saw many first-generation colleagues fail because of academic culture shock. According to the Washington-based Excelencia in Education organization, many first-generation Latinos struggle with completing developmental reading and writing programs to make the next leap into college level academia.
Latino students also grapple with completing course requirements for an associate degree, as well as registering for courses that transfer to four-year universities. Without family and collegiate support, the safety net falls apart and not everyone survives.
Fortunately, there’s hope.
Catch the Next Inc., or CTN, is a college-readiness program focusing on underserved communities and accelerating the success of students unprepared for college-level writing and mathematics. It uses an academic framework called the Casita Model, supported by five pillars of academic engagement: gateway courses, math pathways, accelerated English, learning frameworks and mentoring. The homelike atmosphere allows students to bond with other first-generation students. Field trips and motivational summer seminars at UT Austin are standard.
Families are included in a special Noche de Familia sit-down dinner, where parents meet mentors and college staff involved in their children’s educational experience. CTN engages the parents of first-generation students unfamiliar with higher education.
Because of Maria Martha Chavez Brumell, chief executive officer and former Yale dean, I am officially a part of La Familia, informing other Latinos about our blossoming organization. Among the Alamo Colleges District, Palo Alto College was the first to adopt the data-driven program, and its success has prompted other area colleges to take notice. CTN recently visited Northwest Vista, St. Philip’s and San Antonio College to encourage them to join La Familia of Catch the Next Inc.
Our hope is that the remaining campuses in the Alamo Colleges District will join us in enriching the Latino college population.