For Vanessa Gonzalez-Hernandez, a junior majoring in deaf studies, receiving a college degree is not just about education alone, it is also about making her parent’s dreams come true.
“All my parents want is for me to be a university graduate,” she said. “Once I graduate from a university that will be their dream come true. It will be their first child and daughter graduating from a four-year university.”
A new survey reveals that ethnic minorities view a college degree as being essential to success more than white students, shedding light on the racial divide regarding higher education.
The study, College Board/National Journal Next America Poll, which was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International showed that of 1,272 adults surveyed, 71 percent of minorities with a college degree viewed it as essential, compared to only 44 percent of whites with a college degree.
Minorities: more optimistic about what it means to hold a college degree
More than half of the three minority groups who were surveyed, which consisted of Asian-Americans, Latinos and African-Americans, said that “young people today need a four-year college degree in order to be successful,” according to the survey.
“Minority groups value a college degree more than whites because we’ve seen how difficult life can be without a good paying job, which requires a college degree,” said Itzel Saldana, a 19-year-old Mexican student majoring in social welfare at CSUN. “For the most part, we have had nothing handed to us and we have to work for what we get. Whites on the other hand have certain things handed to them, a luxury we don’t have.”
While 70 percent of Latinos agreed with the statement, making them the largest group of supporters, only 47 percent of whites surveyed believed that young people need a college degree today to be successful, a 10 percent decrease from 2012.
Vicki Allen, CSUN assistant director for student involvement, believes that earning a college degree gives people a “leg up in society” that they wouldn’t otherwise have if they didn’t have a higher education, especially for minorities.
“For the person of color, earning the bachelor’s degree, earning the master’s degree or earning the doctorate degree provides a level of intellectual capital that is different in terms of how it can be applied than maybe a Caucasian person who has the same level of intellectual capital,” Allen said.
Kimberly Pulido, 25, a junior studying kinesiology who is Filipino and Latino, said that it’s important for her to have a college degree because it’s an opportunity her family did not have.
“A lot of my family members didn’t have the chance to follow their dreams. My mom grew up in the Philippines where her education ended at a high school age and my dad is only now getting his degree at the age of 50. My dreams require me to have a college education,” Pulido said.
Furthermore, Pulido said that for minorities, getting a college degree goes far beyond them being more optimistic than whites. It’s about protecting themselves from the stigma that comes along with not being white in the workplace.
“A lot of getting a degree is about how minorities are treated when they walk into a job position. They are usually hired at entry level positions and they’re not expected to have a high intelligence,” Pulido said. “I think that having that college degree on their resume shields them from being stereotyped and it’s proof of what they know.”
Although they are more optimistic about what it means to hold a college degree, between 2001 and 2011, only about 8 percent of Asian-Americans, 7 percent of African-Americans and 6 percent of Latinos of the current population who were 25 and older received a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census report also states that from 2001-2011 the number of Latino adults with a bachelor’s degree grew by 80 percent.
Senior and business management major Brandon Hong said that while he is Asian, he does not align himself with the majority views of the Asian-Americans surveyed.
“I’m not as motivated to get a college degree as you would think most people from the Asian community are. I don’t agree that you need to have a college degree to succeed in life,” he said.
Hong said that staying in school full time has forced him to give up other career opportunities that didn’t even require a college degree.
“My classes have really taught me nothing. If anything, they’ve distracted me from moving forward in life,” he said.
Allen said she can understand why minorities might view higher education as being more valuable than a white person because of the opportunities it can provide for them and their families.
“If you’re a first generation college student, it’s about what that might afford you or your family as well as your community. It can potentially take you into a completely different career opportunity than your family had previously had access too,” Allen said.
English major Samantha Lieb, 20, said that while she knows racial equality has come a long way, she feels that because she is white she has advantages that non-whites do not have.
“Even though I am a woman, even to this day, being white is a privilege and I think it’s messed up but true. I think people who are dubbed minorities find it more valuable to hold a college degree because it’s their ticket to success and their ticket to chasing the American dream and building their own future,” Lieb said.
African-Americans, Allen notes, are often times the majority within their own communities and see a college degree as being more valuable than the majority group of white people surveyed.
“For African-Americans, reading and writing could at one time get them killed as part of being in this country. The value of education has been something that has been trained and taught into a generation of people, that you value it because it was something that was denied,” Allen said.
Furthermore, Allen explains that being denied access to education in the past makes it that much more crucial to receive it today.
“If you’ve been a part of a community that has been denied access to education, that community (places) a greater value on education and that then becomes a message that is communicated on all different levels,” Allen said.
Glenn Omatsu, professor and Faculty Mentor Program coordinator, has taught freshmen students who are the first from their low-income families to attend college through the CSUN Education Opportunity Program (EOP) for 20 years now. He said while these students see the initial value of a college degree for getting good jobs and earning more money, they also view being in college and attaining a bachelor’s degree on a greater level of importance.
“They see it as helping their families to escape poverty. They see themselves as serving as role models for younger siblings, younger relatives, and children in their neighborhoods. They see college as the opportunity to discover and develop their potential to help others. In other words, they see the value of college education not simply in terms of individual attainment but as changing conditions in their families and communities,” Omatsu said.
What’s the payoff of having a college degree?
According to U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, from 2005 to 2011, the median earnings for young adults with a bachelor’s degree was $45,000, while the median for those with a high school diploma was $22,900, showing a significant increase in income for those with a higher level of education.
However, according to Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Harold Hellenbrand, while a college degree is still important, it does not hold the same value now as it once did 10 years ago.
“Long term, the value of the college degree still lives, but when you look at what’s happened the last 10 years, the job market has flattened at all ends in the United States. If you ask literally, if it is as valuable today as it was ten years ago the answer is no. Is it still more valuable than a high school degree, the answer is considerably so,” Hellenbrand said.
As of 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that individuals with a bachelor’s degree had an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent while those with a high school diploma or GED had an unemployment rate of 10 percent and those with less than a GED or high school education had the highest rate at 17.9 percent.
Omatsu said while 20 years ago a college degree would have been looked at as a benefit by employers, to not have one now is looked down upon.
“Twenty years ago having a college degree for one’s career was defined by those hiring as a benefit. Today, with the expansion of young people holding college degrees, not having a college degree is now regarded as negative and making an individual ‘less competitive’ with other job seekers,” Omatsu said.
Success: racially equal
While they may have different views about what it means to hold a college degree, all groups surveyed, both minorities and whites, agreed that children of all racial backgrounds have an equal opportunity to succeed.
Minorities also reported they were more encouraged by their parents to receive a college degree than whites were.
Of the minorities who were surveyed who have a college degree, 84 percent said their parents had encouraged them to pursue a higher education and even 69 percent of those who did not have a college degree said their parents had encouraged them to go to college.
The study reports that whites with college degrees received the same kind of encouragement from their parents to pursue college as minorities with degrees did, only 51 percent of whites without college degrees said they received encouragement to get a college degree from their parents.
Furthermore, 75 percent of African-Americans and 66 percent of Latinos surveyed said they expect their children to attend a two or four-year higher education institution, as opposed to only 64 percent of whites who have the same expectation.
According to Allen, those who were once denied education may view it as more important to have and therefore may be more encouraged to pursue it.
“It depends on who’s always had access versus who’s had limited access and what kind of value that community places on what that access has now granted them,” Allen said.