How a Short Task in Middle School Puts Latinos on a Path to College

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A simple assignment has the power to sharply increase Latino middle-schoolers’ chances of getting to college, researchers have found.

The assignment?

Write essays about your core values and why they are important to you.

New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina speaks with students Carlos Cruz and Lluvia Hernandez in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images via Fox News Latino)

For the past few years, Stanford University-led researchers followed 81 Latino, 158 black, and control students in middle schools who wrote these types of essays—which can provide “self-affirmation,” reinforce adequacy, and add resilience, John Timmer reports in Ars Tecnica.

Researchers then compared these essay writers to other students who wrote on neutral topics, like their afternoon routine.

For Latinos, the self-affirmation essay writers cut their risk in half of ending up on the remedial track, and they were more than twice as likely to end up in academically challenging classes, Timmer wrote.

Enrollment in a college preparatory track went up by more than five-fold.

“The self-affirmation exercise improved academic performance,” he wrote.

Latino Education by the Numbers

Latino educational numbers are improving.

For example, Latino dropout rates declined from 32% in 1990 to 12% in 2013, while Latino students’ college enrollment is increasing.

But there is still much work to be done.

college completion chart hispanic pew research centerAbout 14% of Latino youth ages 16-24 are “disconnected”—not in school and not working, according to the 2017 County Health Rankings.

Also, Latinos lag behind in college completion, according to data from Pew Research Center.

Only 15% of Latinos ages 25-29 have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s much less than whites (41%), blacks (22%), and Asians (63%).

“This gap is due in part to the fact that Hispanics are less likely than some other groups to enroll in a four-year college, attend an academically selective college and enroll full-time,” according to the research.

Improving College Success among Minorities

For the study of middle-schoolers, the effects of self-affirmative essay assignment seemed to be long-lasting.

Hispanic Student And Family Celebrating Graduation“Even though the essays were written in the first year of middle school, the effects lasted throughout the remaining two years before they moved on to high school,” Timmer wrote.

The assignment also proved self-reinforcing.

“The intervention placed students in a frame of mind where they felt that they belonged at school and that college was an expected outcome. Once set with those expectations, the students would then choose classes that put them in contact with teachers and fellow students that shared those expectations,” Timmer wrote. “That environment, apparently, was enough to help them overcome residual doubts, family hardships, and societal racism.”

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, is leading a new initiative to boost college enrollment among minorities.

The two-year effort aims to expand access to “unique personalized learning pathways” to help lower-income and rural area students prepare for key “college gateway tasks,” such as the PSAT, SAT and Advanced Placement courses.

“The only way that we reach our full human potential is if we are able to unlock the gifts of every person around the world,” the duo said in an interview with USA Today.

Explore More:

Higher Ed

By The Numbers By The Numbers

35

Percent

of Latinos age 18-24 are enrolled in a two- or four-year college.

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