Hispanic Students Require Income To Remain in School, Study Finds

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Washington--To adequately address the Hispanic dropout rate, educators must become more sensitive to such students' need for income, according to a new study by the Hispanic Policy Development Project.

The report recommends specifically that middle schools and high schools be restructured to provide more opportunities to earn wages while continuing schooling.

Programs targeting the needs of Hispanic dropouts, their families, and their communities will have impact, the report says, only if organizers "keep one fact firmly in mind: virtually all of them require income."

"Too Late To Patch: Reconsidering Second-Chance Opportunities for Hispanics and Other Dropouts" was one of five reports on at-risk youths and their problems released here last week.

Its authors had originally intended to evaluate the services that at-risk Hispanic youths were receiving in programs funded by the federal Job Training Partnership Act.

But a survey of the programs available in 30 communities with significant Hispanic populations revealed, they say in the report, "that jtpa-funded programs essentially are not serving the nation's at-risk youth."

This is true for a number of reasons, according to the report, including the historic underfunding of the program and regulations that have limited expenditures for support services and required high levels of quantifiable success.

"By definition then," the report says, "the most needy are too costly to serve."

It adds that "in most of the markets, no alternative funding source is in place to support the kinds of programs that the neediest young people require to make them employable."

Siobhan Nicolau, president and founder of the Hispanic Policy Development Project, describes the report that eventually emerged from the study as a "user-friendly book to give people background" on the difficulties faced by at-risk youths, particularly Hispanics.

Earning While Learning

The report draws on other recent studies to convey the magnitude of the problem. "Two-thirds of this nation's Hispanic youth lack the basic skills they need to find stable employment that pays a living wage, provides benefits and pensions, and offers genuine opportunity for advancement," it says.

Further complicating the situation, the report notes, is the fact that the Hispanic population is largely concentrated in the metropolitan regions of four states--California, Florida, New York, and Texas--"where they are rapidly becoming a majority of the available--but ill-prepared--workforce."

But despite their common needs and goals, the public schools and the job-training establishment have rarely cooperated with one another, the report says, calling this one of the major obstacles to finding effective solutions for problems in either field.

"Educators, until recently, involved themselves very little in job-training matters or in the employment needs or realities of their students," it says.

Citing data from the federal "High School and Beyond" longitudinal study, the report notes that 41 percent of the Hispanic youths who drop out of school do so for economic reasons.

In addition, it says, Hispanic males under 20 years of age--both dropouts and high-school students--work more hours each week on average than either white or black dropouts and students.

Policymakers must bear these economic facts in mind, the report concludes, when devising programs to upgrade the skills of disadvantaged Hispanics.

"If education and job-training programs do not provide stipends," it says, "the scheduling of such programs must be made flexible to accommodate the earning needs of participants."

'Strong, Personal Interventions'

The report also urges the personnel in schools and job-training programs to provide "sustained personal attention" to students whose social and economic backgrounds present obstacles to remaining in school.

"Absent strong, personal interventions to support children's self-esteem," it says, "many of the well-meaning measures to bring their academic performances up to grade--placement in remediation classes, or being kept back, for example--serve only to reinforce their sense of inadequacy."

Both the programs and the young people they serve need to be held accountable for results, the report maintains.

At-risk students "need help, yes, but they must be expected to perform, and to comply with their side of the social contract," Ms. Nicolau said at a press conference here.

For these students to be motivated to succeed, she added, they "must see the connection between striving and achieving."

"This means that worthwhile jobs must be available," Ms. Nicolau said.

The report also offers an unusual strategy for upgrading the skills of older dropouts. Contracts to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, it says, should include provisions for hiring and retraining adults deficient in basic and work-related skills.

Copies of "Too Late to Patch" are available for $5 each from the Hispanic Information Center, Suite 310, 1001 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036; (202) 822-8414.

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