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Latinos and College Education

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EUGENE, Ore. — Fall quarter is in full swing at the University of Oregon. And while ethnic enrollment is up, Latinos overall struggle to graduate.

It’s a new year for Francisco Morales O’Conner, a sophomore at the UO. Both his parents were first generation college graduates, a family trend that continues.

“My parents always told me I am going to college and will get a Master’s degree,” O’Conner said.

He says it’s an honor to study at the UO, and with it comes responsibility.

“It makes me feel like I have a lot of power because there’s not that many Latinos going to college,” O’Conner said.

According to the 2010 Census, Latinos and Hispanics make up 12 percent of Oregon’s population, but that’s not reflected in college enrollment. Latinos represented 8.3 percent of incoming freshmen at the UO in 2010-2011 school year, while only 5.8 percent of the total campus population.

Then there’s the graduation rate. The National Education Association released a study indicating a crisis in the education of Latino students. In 2005, only 11.2 percent of Latinos ages 25-29 had completed a Bachelor’s degree or higher. African Americans came in slightly higher at 17.5 percent, whereas whites were at 34 percent.

“I think it’s really alarming. I would encourage high school students to do well because a lot of universities like the UO have really great scholarships for students who come from low-income backgrounds,” O’Conner said.

For many families, money is an issue. The nonprofit Centro Latino Americano started a new scholarship program last year to assist Latino students at area colleges. Twelve students, including O’Conner, received an award. This year, another 12 students will receive a scholarship.

Juan Carlos Valle, a board member with Centro, also attended the UO.

“It’s important that we get behind these types of programs not only for Latinos, African Americans, all students that are in need of these types of scholarships. It is in our best interest for them to graduate so they can get jobs, get into economic development and they can secure a quality of life for tomorrow,” Valle said.

For O’Conner, his tomorrow includes a Master’s degree.

“I want to be a teacher. I want to teach K-12. I specifically want to work with minority students,” O’Conner said.

Those 12 scholarships will be awarded Friday night as Centro Latino Americano celebrates its 40th anniversary.

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