Why colleges need ‘tactical plans’ to help Latino students

April 4, 2018

In the 40th Pullias Lecture, Sarita E. Brown challenges academics to be positive forces for change in higher ed

By Ross Brenneman

Sarita E. Brown, president and co-founder of Excelencia in Education, delivers the 40th Pullias Lecture, looking at equity in higher education from a Latino angle. Credit: Steve Cohn

If the United States higher education system is to see full college completion, administrators will need to have tactical plans for Latino students, according to the expert who delivered USC Rossier’s 40th Pullias Lecture.

Sarita E. Brown, president and co-founder of Excelencia in Education, delivered the lecture March 27 at USC Town and Gown.

Hosted by USC Rossier’s Pullias Center for Higher Education, Brown’s lecture was equal parts history lesson, corporate strategy session and indictment of higher education inequities.

“At this moment in this country, we must recognize the severe and extreme issues of conflict over civil rights, racial and ethnic relations and economic disparities,” Brown said. “Who, or what, can be a force to help people navigate an inequitable opportunity landscape and propel a civil society?”

Capacity for change

Brown co-founded Excelencia in Education with Deborah A. Santiago in 2004, looking to share useful data and information for those looking to support Latino students, while also advocating for equitable policies and creating important networks.

“We’re looking [for academics] who believe as we do in the capacity of the higher education sector to be a gateway for equity in this country,” Brown said.

According to information from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015-16, Latinos had a 41 percent college graduation rate, compared to 52 percent of all students. A July 2017 report from Excelencia in Education showed that only 22 percent of Latino adults had earned an associate’s degree or higher, the lowest rate among racial groups that included Asian, Black and White adults.

Many of the inequities faced by Latinos are decades old, Brown said, noting that her speech came on the 50th anniversary of the East Los Angeles walkouts, when thousands of students—mostly of Mexican descent—poured into the streets to protest their poor school conditions.

Latinos continue to face many similar conditions today. Brown encouraged those looking to build equity in college and university systems to understand how to effect change: how to build momentum on success, to execute thoroughly and well and to plan to study what more is needed.

“Regardless of the sector that any of us wants to effect change in, these are the fundamentals,” Brown said. “You start by making an assessment, you calibrate what you’re in a position to do, you evaluate whatever it is you’re offering and you reserve your stamina to fight again another day.”

Brown concluded by noting the growing voices calling for change, and that the traditions of higher education, while strong, will be assessed for the equity they create.

“We are vast, we are growing,” Brown said. “And what we know is that we are eager to participate, we are ready to engage and we believe deeply that education in the pathway.”

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