JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the second installment of our week-long series on ideas to transform higher education for students and provide new opportunities.
Tonight, Hari Sreenivasan reports why some Latino males are being urged to turn down a job today in favor of four years of college tomorrow.
JUAN LOPEZ, Graduate Student, University of Texas: The series is called Rethinking College, and it’s part of our weekly education coverage, Making the grade.
MAN: If I can have the mentors on one side and the mentees on another.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Graduate student Juan Lopez wants to bring to college campuses what he sees as largely missing, Latino males.
JUAN LOPEZ: They’re not seen as people who will succeed, especially minority males of color.
I want to go to college.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, on this day, Lopez and undergraduates from the university of Texas at Austin are mentoring high school freshman boys as part of an initiative called Project MALES.
JUAN LOPEZ: Undergraduates mentor high school students. Graduate students mentor undergraduate students.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In this exercise, college and high school students move together over shared experiences.
JUAN LOPEZ: I want to help my family out financially after I graduate high school.
HARI SREENIVASAN: One common concern emerges for both mentors and mentees.
EMMET CAMPOS, Director, Project MALES: They’re expected to be the wage earner in the family.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Emmet Campos directs Project MALES’ school mentoring programs.
EMMET CAMPOS: So, their expectations that they get from their family and from their peers is that their goal is to get a job, and to earn an income. And so those factors are pulling them away from actually going to college.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Pablo Hall is a high school sophomore and the oldest boy in his family.
PABLO HALL, High School Student: I want to make money after high school, so that when my mom gets older, I can put her in a house, and my brothers, like, keep them good. I just want to help my family after high school.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Even when students get to college, financial obligations can continue to haunt them.
ANTONIO SALMERO, Student, University of Texas: When I was doing the two job thing, it was really hard, and everybody was excelling on their tests and their homework and their projects, and I was starting to fall behind.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Antonio Salmero is a senior at U.T. Austin.
ANTONIO SALMERO: I felt really discouraged even to be in college, but, yes, the reason why, because someone’s got to pay bills, somebody has got to help out at home. Some of these kids in some of my classes, I know, haven’t even worked a day in their life. So, that’s always very stressful and discouraging.
JUAN LOPEZ: Our parents are accustomed to the traditions of Mexico, of Latin America, El Salvador, Guatemala, et cetera. And over there, you got to work. What puts food on the table is work. And it’s this kind of mental setback that is instilled in our Latino males that makes them have to choose between an education and a job.
ANTONIO SALMERO: Growing up, there was always this cultural belief that a man’s worth is defined by his work. There’s this sense of machismo in the Mexican culture. And machismo is the belief that being a man is providing for your family.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In the U.S., one in four children are Latino.
Economists project that, within four years, two-thirds of all jobs will require post-secondary education and training beyond high school.
Victor Saenz, professor at the University of Texas, Austin, founded the Project MALES initiative.
VICTOR SAENZ, Professor, University of Texas: The demographic reality of this country and the future population projections suggests that the current 55 million Hispanics in this country is poised to double in the next 40 to 50 years.
I think our future economic prosperity is absolutely linked to the educational outcomes for Latino males.
HARI SREENIVASAN: While Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing minority in the country, they have lowest educational attainment of any group. The high school graduation rate for Latinos is 71 percent, but only 15 percent of Latinos hold bachelor’s degrees.
And despite significant increases in college enrollment among Hispanics, a troubling trend has emerged. Latino men lag far behind women.
VICTOR SAENZ: The men of color conversation nationally has really taken root and has gained great momentum. Project MALES is rooted in this larger social justice agenda.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Project MALES explores the reasons why so many Latino boys stop short of four-year degrees.
VICTOR SAENZ: We see that Latino boys are over-represented in the special education ranks, over-represented in the school discipline pipeline. And by the time they get to high school and college, their numbers have dwindled to the point where there’s not enough of them to really look at student populations.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Austin High School principal Ty Davidson says mentors are especially important for first-generation students considering college.
TY DAVIDSON: There’s somebody there who looks like you, may have the same experience as you, about anxiety over financial aid, the anxiety of maybe moving away from home, saying, it’s going to be OK. It’s, we’re going to do it together.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Project MALES mentors spend a lot of time talking to young men about the economic realities of being an unskilled worker.
EMMET CAMPOS: We show them the data. We provide them with information about degrees and how they translate into incomes, into salaries.
HARI SREENIVASAN: At Gus Garcia Middle School, mentors talk dollars and cents.
MAN: So, I just wanted to ask you all if any of you all have an idea of how much the minimum wage is right now?
MAN: Twelve dollars an hour?
MAN: Fifteen an hour?
MAN: Ten dollars an hour?
So, I guess minimum wage is probably a little over $14,000. Does that sound like a lot of money?
STUDENT: No, $14,000 is barely enough to buy a car.
MAN: You think you could live off of that?
EMMET CAMPOS: We talk about, have you thought of what that car’s going to cost? Have you thought about what that house is going to cost?
PABLO HALL: There are times when I felt I want to drop out of school.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Pablo Hall, who was thinking of dropping out of high school as a freshman, says Project MALES has made a difference.
PABLO HALL: The mentors, they’re good. When I need help, they help me with it. You can tell the mentors what’s going on.
HARI SREENIVASAN: At the same time, Antonio Salmero says mentoring high school students helped him when he thought of leaving college.
ANTONIO SALMERO: I mean, I see myself pushing this idea of self-responsibility, of self-reliance, and determination onto myself, much like I do want to make them realize that as well.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The program hopes some of its graduate students will return to college campus as professors, a career also largely underrepresented by Latino men.
I’m Hari Sreenivasan for the “PBS NewsHour.”