As various sectors have begun to rebound two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Latinx community continues to feel the pinch of job losses, health disparities, economic impacts and a downturn in education opportunities.
Their plight has rippled from school districts to businesses on up to colleges and universities, where Latinx students comprise 20% of institution populations but have sustained more losses in terms of enrollment and transfer mobility than White students. There also remain very few Latina and Hispanic women at the top of higher education.
It’s part of the reason why the Biden Administration has vowed to put some muscle around initiatives like Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics that can help change those trends. On Tuesday, the Department of Education hosted the first in a series of Latino Economic Summits at the University of Texas-San Antonio’s downtown campus that will occur across the nation through the summer. The goal is to fuel “economic empowerment” by offering both resources and sparking discussion during the three-hour-long events. Members from the Aspen Institute, which is co-hosting the events, will be on hand at the in-person sessions, which also includes a stop-off in Denver (location TBA) on Saturday.
“We’re appreciative that the White House Initiative chose San Antonio to host its first economic summit and that UTSA would be selected as the forum for the discussions,” said Teresa Nino, Vice President for University Relations for UTSA, which is one of only 20 Hispanic Serving Institutions with an R1 status. “This is the ideal setting for discussing equity and support for underserved communities. San Antonio is a city committed to generating economic prosperity for its people, and UTSA is empowering that prosperity by driving Hispanic student success. We strive to be a Hispanic thriving institution, a model recognized as a catalyst for transformative change.”
Change has been impeded in higher education by a number of factors, including one big one – the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center showed a continued 2.8% decline in enrollment of Latinx students this fall and a 2.9% drop in transfers, the most of any demographic subgroup. Many students have had to stop out or give up on new enrollments. During the early stages of the pandemic, large populations of Hispanics and Latinos who work in the service sector suffered massive layoffs and have not fully recovered. The Center for American Progress also highlighted that pay gaps also have increased, noting that it is imperative they build back resources and wealth quickly. The planned talks will highlight the American Rescue Plan, the COVID response, the push to get more Latinx individuals to apply for grants and internships, as well as discussions around Biden’s edict to advance racial equity.
“These summits are part of our commitment to advancing equity and opportunities for Latino communities across the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “The Biden-Harris administration continues to champion diversity, as we strive for a more inclusive and prosperous society.”
Part of that is ensuring that higher education is viable for prospective students. The Administration has made it clear it wants to see more loan relief for borrowers, fewer colleges taking advantage of students and strengthening Public Service Loan Forgiveness. It also wants to see career pathways be more accessible and more inclusive.
“America’s success is rooted in collective prosperity and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to thrive,” said Dan Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute. “The Latino community, representing nearly 19% of our population, is central to our country’s present and its future, and we have a responsibility to build structures that create opportunity for people and families in this critical demographic.”
Among the breakout sessions that featured local and national leaders at UTSA were:
- The Small Business Administration discussing federal contracting and forging opportunities for communities and small businesses;
- An ED-led discussion on its Equity and Workforce Development program;
- A Housing and Urban Development session on Entrepreneurial and Worker Empowerment Through Community Development; and
- The Department of Labor’s look at Essential Workers, Essential Protections