- Part 2 of a three-part series on the growing Hispanic community in North Carolina
North Carolina’s Hispanic population holds the lowest high school graduation rate of any other race/ethnic group in the state, proving to be one of the biggest challenges facing that community today. In higher education, Hispanics hold a graduation rate that is 6% lower than their white non-Hispanic counterparts, according to Excelencia in Education.
In 2019, only 71% of Hispanic students reported having intentions of continuing education past high school, with only 26% intending to go to a four-year institution, according to statistics from the NC Department of Public Instruction. That is also the lowest of any ethnic/racial group, according to EdNC.
Not graduating from high school, or choosing not to continue in any other form of higher education, more than doubles the chances of living under the poverty line, according to data from the US Census Bureau. The NC Hispanic community is especially vulnerable to being affected by these statistics due to how youthful the community is. The median age for a Hispanic in North Carolina is the lowest in the South, at 25. This means that a significant portion of the Hispanic community is still either in high school or in college.
Non-profits are stepping up their efforts to try to close the Hispanic educational gap by promoting mentorships, Spanish curriculum, parent programs, and broader education about school choice options.
Organizations like Juntos, supported by both NC State University and 4-H, help Hispanic high school students across the state through tutoring, mentoring, and family events.
One of the most prominent non-profits working on the issue statewide is LatinxEd, founded in 2018.
“Today, our statewide non-profit organization is dedicated to collectively investing in the growth and well-being of Latinx leaders in order to advance the educational outcomes of Latinx students, reimagine education systems, and pursue innovation in education,” said Elaine Townsend Utin, executive director of LatinxEd, in an interview with CJ.
Utin is a North Carolina native, from Waxhaw, with roots in Peru. She is a graduate from Harvard’s School of Education as well as a current board member of Higher Ed Works, another NC-based nonprofit focused on higher education.
LatinxEd got its start, according to Utin, as a way to “carry on a decade-long legacy of education advocacy for the Latinx community in the North Central region of North Carolina.”
“North Carolina’s public education system is at a crossroads,” Utin said.
LatinxEd, like many other Hispanic-aim nonprofits, uses the term Latinx interchangeably with Hispanic, Latino, and Latine to describe “heritage or roots belonging in Latin America.” A Democrat-funded study in 2021 found only 2% of American Hispanics prefer the term “Latinx,” with a further 40% saying they find the term offensive.
Now more than ever, Utin believes that the Hispanic community needs “to be heard, included, and a part of education efforts that will expand opportunities for their families.” As a result, LatinxEd embarked on a statewide listing tour, called #SomosNC, which translates to “We Are NC,” to hear the concern of Hispanic families.
From September 2021 to October 2022, LatinxEd traveled across North Carolina interviewing Hispanic families and other education and community stakeholders about their experiences with education. In February, LatinxEd released its first SomosNC report that detailed the findings of their listening tour.
Utin says their SomosNC Report was designed to provide education advocates and Hispanic leaders with the tools, data, and partnerships needed to deepen their impact.
According to the report, major systemic issues need to be solved including chronic disinvestment in bicultural and bilingual workforce education, cultural and social isolation in schools, absence of Hispanic educators and education leaders, and limited opportunities and advising support for post-secondary education.
Among the recommendations that the report suggested are to build and support more schools designed for newly arrived immigrants and refugees, create more culturally inclusive curricula, create education programs for Hispanic parents, and invest in local communities to provide more post-secondary resources for education.
Bob Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation, thinks school choice would likely help achieve this customized cultural approach.
“The growing number of Hispanic students enrolled in North Carolina charter schools and the Opportunity Scholarship Program underscores this fact and highlights why school choice is the preferred educational option for Hispanic families,” Luebke said. “School choice empowers parents to choose an educational experience that reflects a family’s cultural values and beliefs.”
The LIBRE Initiative is another Hispanic-focused nonprofit that places a special focus on education, often in the form of advocating for school choice. Jeffrey Balwin, strategic director from the LIBRE Initiative, told CJ that they often do not know about the choice they could have for schools designed to meet the needs of Hispanic children.
“In Latin-America, there often isn’t a choice that is not between public or private school, unlike here where we have a third choice,” Balwin stated.
The LIBRE Initiative thus aims to inform more Hispanic parents about the school choice they have.
A recent poll from the National School Choice Awareness Foundation recently found that 64.6% of Hispanic parents are considering new schools for their children, signaling a post-Covid realignment and a new opportunity for Hispanic families to achieve better outcomes for their children.