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Reach Higher: Improving Education for Hispanics

Although young Hispanics are the fastest growing group, they are still more likely to leave school without finishing and do not sufficiently seek a college degree.

The following Op-Ed by Eric Waldo was published in La Opinión, and can be read in Spanish HERE.  

The future of our nation is strongly linked to the educational success of the Hispanic community. Hispanics are the largest, youngest and fastest growing minority group that will represent 70 percent of population growth in our country between 2015 and 2060, and for that reason, it is crucial to invest in the educational future of Hispanic youth right now. During the first term of the Obama administration, the number of Hispanics enrolled in college reached a record high and has grown by more than 1.1 million additional students.

Fortunately, we have made some significant progress in the last decade - the Hispanic dropout rate has fallen by more than half from 28% in 2000 to less than 13% in 2012 and is still improving. But there is more to do.

Continuing with the progress we have made, the White House recently announced our next "College Opportunity Summit at the White House" on December 4 to continue the dialogue on the importance of expanding access to college. We also announced recent educational measures, such as 14 new commitments from community colleges to strengthen college preparation for students who lack adequate academic preparation and many more commitments in progress.

First Lady Michelle Obama also works to expand college opportunities with her education initiative “Reach Higher” launched this year, which seeks to inspire our youth to take control of their future, encouraging them to continue their secondary school education and obtain a college degree or professional certification.

This summer, The First Lady spoke at the 85th Annual Conference of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the largest and oldest Latino civil rights organization for the Latino community in the country centered on issues related to education and civic engagement. In her speech the First Lady highlighted the vital role a good education plays to develop successful individuals and communities. The First Lady stressed that too many Latino students still cannot realize their potential. Although the proportion of Latino students that graduate from high school has recently reached a historic high, it does not yet compare with the level other groups reach. And when it comes to college, regardless of the results of aptitude tests or academic average, Latino students are more likely to leave school without finishing; less than 15 percent of young Latinos age 25 have a university degree, a percentage that is behind their African-American, Anglo-Saxon and Asian counterparts.

The First Lady invited all those present to be inspired by the example of Latino leaders who have dedicated their efforts to improve educational opportunities and fought for the civil rights of the Latino community, as they are a source of support and inspiration for the new generation of young Latinos. Because today in our economy a high school diploma is not enough. Students must reach higher; that is why the First Lady is working to unite the country around President Obama’s "North Star" goal, so that by 2020, the United States once again reaches the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Through "Reach Higher" the First Lady is working to ensure that all students are aware that they need to complete their education, exposing students to opportunities for college visits and professional experiences; helping them determine eligibility for financial aid; encouraging the planning of their studies and academic learning during the summer; and supporting school counselors to help students get into college.

All young people who are about to return to class you have to take your education as a personal challenge. Choosing challenging classes, reading stimulating books and making the best effort depends on the students. Therefore, parents and students this year, challenge each other to reach higher. And keep an eye on college for a better future. Your country is counting on you.

Eric Waldo is the Executive Director of the First Lady’s “Reach Higher” initiative.