DENVER — Educators would love to see graduation rates at 100%. That’s not happening at the high school or college level for a variety of reasons.
Studies show if you have a college degree, you are likely to make double the wages of someone without a degree. However, not everyone wants to go to college, or even thinks it’s possible for them.
And that seems to be the case for many Latino men. Research from the Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF) shows an alarming trend that Latino males, in particular, are missing from college campuses.
The Denver Scholarship Foundation has been working in Denver Public Schools (DPS) high schools for 15 years, setting up “future centers” inside each school. It's a place where students as young as 14 can speak to advisors and learn about possibilities in higher education, including colleges, universities and trade schools.
The future center at Lincoln High School helped Kevin Perez-Martinez reach his dream. He is one of nearly 10,000 DPS students who found a path to college and a way to pay for it through DSF. Perez-Martinez graduated second in his class at Lincoln and is now attending School of Mines in Golden.
“I got the opportunity to go there and with full tuition as well, so it's pretty, pretty cool," he told Denver7.
Perez-Martinez is a DPS success story. He, like so many DSF scholars, comes from a single-parent household and is the first in his family to go to college.
“We work with thousands of DPS students every day, and the largest population that we serve are Latin X students. Sixty percent of the students that DSF serves are first generation. So when we look at college going rates and success rates, we noticed that our female students were outnumbering males two to one," said Nate Cadena, DSF's chief operating officer.
And as DSF looked at other research across the country, they noticed a pattern.
“That was consistent with national data trends. And we decided to look a little further into the issue of Latino males being absent in, really, in the pipeline, attending higher education and completing. So we partnered with a local alumni organization called Ednium, and we decided to do some further research with DPS graduates to take a look at the experience of Latino males in Denver to see if the experiences were very similar to what we were reading in data and seeing in our trends. And we found that that is continuing to be true for students coming out of DPS, especially Latino males," Cadena said.
As they searched for some of the reasons why, they found cultural conflicts and family responsibilities came into play for these young men.
"Latino males, specifically, really experience things within their culture, within the community. And then systemically, that really has created some hindrances for them in their pathway to higher ed. A lot of our families take a look at the responsibility of the family as a combination — everybody, everybody's in there. Everybody's got responsibilities. So therein was some challenges, you know, and opportunities and obligations that could be distracting from one's academic pathway. You know, that's just one part of the story," Cadena said.
Another is just not being familiar with the college process.
"We're working with first generation students of color, and first generation meaning there isn't a family legacy, typically, of enrolling in and completing college education," Cadena said.
And while educators search for answers to turn these startling statistics around, Cadena also acknowledges college may not be for everyone.
“It's not the answer for everybody. But it does save some lives, and it saves some families. And oftentimes, it creates a trajectory that is literally life changing for generations, especially for first generation families," he said.
That’s what the School of Mines is doing for Kevin Perez-Martinez. He’s the oldest of four children.
"It’s still shocking now that I'm here. It's just... from middle school, I thought the School of Mines was a very prestigious school, and I thought I was never going to come here," he said.
Now, his dreams are big and within his reach.
“My goal is to go to NASA and become an electrical engineer," Perez-Martinez said.