Latino Student Success Can Help Enable "Exceptionalism"

Not everyone buys into the idea of "American exceptionalism," but I do. Admittedly, my definition probably differs from what seems to be the popular notion of that term. Being exceptional doesn't mean you're always right ... or above criticism ... or absolved from the rules of justice and compassion and tolerance that define a civil society.

Quite the contrary. We are exceptional as a nation because of those rules. We live in a country that was founded on the idea of equal opportunity and enriched immeasurably by the diversity of our people. In fact, our embrace of the notion that anyone can succeed in America if given a fair chance is what defines our greatness.

And that embrace must continue, because the face of America is changing.

Census estimates predict that by 2050, the citizens who used to be called "minorities" will constitute the majority of Americans. By then, some 80 million Latinos will be added to the U.S. population, and our school-age population will grow by 19 million --17 million of whom will be Latino.

By 2025, half of the nation's workers will be of Latino descent. At that time, 63 percent of all jobs in the United States will require some form of postsecondary education or training, according to labor economist Anthony Carnevale of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Today, less than 40 percent of working-age Americans have at least a two-year degree, and among Latinos, the proportion is even lower - less than 20 percent.

These trends send a clear message: For these workers to be prosperous and productive -- indeed, for the nation itself to succeed -- they must be properly prepared. They need to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and effective communicators. And in today's global economy, that means they must enroll and succeed in higher education in far greater numbers.

That's why Lumina Foundation is launching a major national effort to improve postsecondary education attainment among Latino students.

As part of this Latino student success effort, Lumina will provide support for a dozen partnerships in metro areas around the nation. These partnerships span from California to Texas, Florida and New York, but they also include communities such as Memphis, Tennessee, Savannah, Georgia, and the Research Triangle region of North Carolina. In many ways, the partnerships themselves reflect the universality of the Latino demographic nationwide. The partnership leaders also reflect this diversity, ranging from a state university, to community colleges, to community-driven organizations such as Junior Achievement and the YMCA.

The partnerships supported through this work will seek to build, implement and sustain successful "place-based efforts" that capitalize on the expertise of local leaders and organizations in the policy, education, business and nonprofit sectors. The program will provide an array of services to Latino students and families, including training in financial literacy, help with K12-to-college transfer and transition issues, and improved developmental courses designed to move students more efficiently toward credit-bearing courses.

Lumina's efforts builds on nearly two years of planning and engagement with many foundations and national leaders in the Latino community. Through these partnerships, we aim to build bridges among the many groups already working to improve Latino college student success.

The dozen partnerships are a key element of the goal that Lumina has promoted for the nation: to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025. We feel this goal -- what we call "Goal 2025" -- is vital to the nation's future, and we're keenly aware that Latinos are central to its achievement.

This work on Latino success is more than just a good move for the Latino community; it's a smart move for the nation -- and a vital one if we want to ensure the kind of American exceptionalism that everyone can buy into.

To learn more, please see our video at this link: