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WMU study says Latinos face college hurdles

April 8, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University researchers studying the Kalamazoo Promise recently unveiled results of a new working paper that show Latino schoolchildren face many challenges when it comes to taking advantage of the higher education funding initiative.

Among those obstacles are language and literacy barriers, parents' lack of accurate information about post-secondary education and the Kalamazoo Promise and relatively lower levels of expectations and perceived opportunities of higher education, researchers say. Study results were shared at a meeting sponsored by the Hispanic American Council, which was attended by Kalamazoo Public Schools officials and a number of community leaders.

Key questions addressed in the study were:

  • How do Latino families perceive the Promise?
  • How are Latino families impacted by the Promise?
  • What obstacles prevent Latinos from taking advantage of the Promise?

Interviews with Latino parents and students found most parents had low levels of formal education, lacked confidence in their own English reading ability and had little family history of college attendance. Furthermore, the study revealed that students had moderately high aspirations for future education, but had difficulty articulating what was required to achieve their goals.

"Latino students reported that they are aware of the Promise, but contrary to findings from other ethnic groups, the Latino students reported that they do not often discuss the Promise with parents or peers," says Dr. Gary Miron, a WMU professor of educational leadership, research and technology and one of three researchers who co-wrote the paper.

The new paper, titled "Latinos and the Kalamazoo Promise: An Exploratory Study of Factors Related to Utilization of Kalamazoo's Universal Scholarship Program," also was written by Elana Tornquist and Katya Gallegos, WMU research assistants. Among findings from a high school and middle school survey, Latino students:

  • Were less likely to report that they plan to obtain a college degree and that one of their parents had a college degree relative to other ethnic groups.
  • Believed teachers had lower expectations for them than for white students.
  • Reported they were familiar with the Promise, but their level of familiarity was lower than for black or white students.
  • Reported a substantially lower proportion of their parents encouraged them to work harder in school because of the Promise, relative to other ethnic groups.

Announced in November 2005 by anonymous private donors, the Kalamazoo Promise pays up to 100 percent of college tuition and fees for students who graduate from Kalamazoo Public Schools and attend any Michigan public institution of higher education.

There were some encouraging study results, however, the researchers noted.

  • 55 percent of Latinos agreed or strongly agreed the Promise increased their college options.
  • 30 percent of Latinos reported adjusting their goals in response to the Promise.
  • 48 percent of Latinos say they worked harder in school because of the Promise--all percentages similar or higher than other ethnic groups.

"This was an exploratory study that identified a number of obstacles and barriers that limit the impact of the Promise upon Latino families," Miron says. "The Promise opened the door to higher education for all students. Now that we better understand the obstacles that Latinos face, we hope that the community and the school district will be better able to support Latino students so they pass through that door."

For more information about this and other reports about the impact of the Kalamazoo Promise, visit wmich.edu/kpromise.

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Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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