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Kai Ryssdal: A report out from the Southern Education Foundation out today says the South is the first part of the country where more than half the children in public schools are minorities. That is happening in part because more Latinos and their larger families are moving in. Latinos are the fastest-growing part of the U.S. population.
And as the United States tries to keep up with other countries in getting students into, and graduated from college, Latinos are getting special attention. Because they're the least likely to get college degrees. From American RadioWorks, Emily Hanford reports.
EMILY HANFORD: George Cushman spent most of his career in the corporate world. Then came 9/11 and his position was eliminated. Searching around for something new, he ended up taking a job at the Hispanic College Fund. And it opened his eyes to a huge problem about to hit the nation as baby boomers like him retire.
GEORGE Cushman: The number of white professionals leaving the workforce is so large. And the largest population to replace them are Latinos. And they're getting degrees at a third the rate.
The numbers really are daunting. The Census Bureau predicts that by the year 2050, nearly one in three U.S. residents will be Hispanic. And right now, only 13 percent of Latinos get bachelor's degrees. Boosting that rate is the goal of the Hispanic College Fund. At first the Fund focused on helping students pay for college. But that wasn't enough. Too many kids were dropping out of high school. So the fund started a program for students as young as 9th grade.
IDALIA Fernandez: We created the Hispanic Youth Symposium to get students to believe that they can go to college.
Idalia Fernandez is president of the Hispanic College Fund. The fund sponsors five of these symposia each year. This one's at Towson University in Maryland.
Students come to campus for four days of motivational speeches like this and to learn practical things like how to fill out financial aid forms. They live in the dorms, eat in the dining hall, get a feel for what college is like. It's the first time many of them have ever been on a college campus.
GERMAN OSORIO: First I was like, ahh, I might go to college. Now I'm like positive. I'm like got to go to college, I'm going to college.
This is German Osorio. He's in 10th grade. A teacher told him about this program.
Osorio: I want to have a professional job. Not like my family, like gardeners, fast food restaurants, construction workers. I want to do something different.
German's parents are from El Salvador. They didn't get much education. He says they'd like him to go to college, but they don't know anything about how to help him get there. This is where guidance counselors should come in, but Idalia Fernandez says many Latinos go to poor schools where they don't get good counseling or worse, they confront counselors who tell them they're not cut out for college. So students give up.
Fernandez: A lot of the times they self select out. Why should I apply? Why should I take the SATs?
Fernandez says students and parents sometimes need a little convincing that college is worth the time and money. So when she and her colleagues started the Youth Symposium they created charts showing how much more money people make with a college degree. But that pitch fell kind of flat.
George Cushman explains.
GEORGE Cushman: We looked at the students, and they were looking at each other saying how do I explain this to my parents? My house isn't good enough, the car isn't good enough, they're working two jobs, each of them, they're killing themselves, and it isn't good enough?
So instead of emphasizing money, Fernandez says they tell students that a college degree is one way they can improve their communities.
Fernandez: You know, if you go to a hospital, and you saw that a family member didn't get the health care they needed because someone didn't understand their language then you're the one that has to become the health care provider who's bilingual and is going to serve the Latino community.
So far the appeal seems to be working. The Hispanic College Fund received more than 38,000 applications last year for 600 scholarships. Those numbers seem to say two things. Young Latinos who see college as a possibility are lining up for the opportunity. But they need more help paying for it.
I'm Emily Hanford for Marketplace.