Sunday, February 28, 2010

Univisión, White House team up to push Hispanic education

By LAURA WIDES-MUNOZ Associated Press

Univisión will announce Tuesday, February 23, 2010, a multiyear campaign to boost academic achievement among Hispanics by teaching parents about what it takes to ensure their children finish high school and graduate from college. The campaign, entitled in Spanish "The Moment is Now,'' comes as statistics show Hispanic high school and college graduation rates are far below the national average, and that the Hispanic unemployment rate is among the nation's highest at 12.6 percent.

With Hispanics making up about a fifth of the nation's kindergarten through 12th graders, that's a major concern for the entire nation, said Univisión Networks President Cesar Conde. The nation's largest Spanish-language network is teaming with the U.S. Department of Education, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and nonprofits nationwide. Conde said Hispanic parents, like most Americans, value education. And many came to the United States to provide better educational opportunities for their children. But once here, they often don't know how to navigate the system.

"We want to raise the standards and the expectations that we in the Hispanic community have for the youth,'' Conde said. "And we want to educate parents who may not think some opportunities are within their children's grasp.''Univisión will use its television and radio networks and its mobile and Internet platforms to provide information to parents about how to encourage high school completion and college readiness, as well as where to turn for college loans and scholarships -- a key component that can be daunting even for those familiar with U.S. financial and academic systems.According to federal data, about 13 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. have a college degree, compared to about a quarter of the population as a whole. Less than half of Hispanics who attend college graduate, compared to a national average of 54 percent.

"When I first arrived in the U.S. 25 years ago, I still remember people saying the worst problem facing the Hispanic community was the dropout rate,'' said Univisión news anchor Jorge Ramos, who will lead the campaign." Twenty-five years later we're talking about exactly the same thing. Something has to be done.

''An exact cost of the program hasn't been determined but is expected to be several million dollars in cash and donations.Among Univisión's first programs will be a March 6 special that brings together children and their families to talk about the obstacles they face in continuing their education. Ramos said at least two of the teen dropouts he featured have since returned to school as a result of their participation in the show.Univisión worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to focus its campaign beyond high school graduation to ensuring students have the skills to make it in college, said foundation spokesman Chris Williams. The foundation will help evaluate and make adjustments to the campaign over time.

Juan Sepulveda, head of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, said the government will help connect Univisión with experts such as federal officials, educators and grass-roots groups that can provide examples of best practices the company can highlight. Sepulveda said it was important to dispel the notion that Hispanic youths aren't succeeding because they don't speak English, or that such campaigns target those in the country illegally.

"It's really a small population of students with undocumented status,'' he said. "The majority are U.S. citizens.''Sepulveda said the administration chose to work with Univisión because of the success it has had in previous campaigns, including its citizenship and voter-registration efforts in the run-up to the 2008 election.

"No one is saying this is going to be an easy task,'' Conde said of convincing parents to forgo the financial help that a high school graduate can bring to the household if he goes straight into the work force."But we need to ensure our parents and community as a whole understand the long-term benefits of a college degree not just for the individual, but for the family.''

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