Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Latinas Aim for Higher Learning

Published August 2013

Bridgette Hernandez, mother of an autistic child, shared with me her desires and fears about going back to finish her degree. I have heard many stories of single and married mothers who must find the courage to continue their educations.

The fear of being a “returning student” is very real. Even I, with a four-year degree, often ask myself: why don’t I go for my master’s? As for many Latinas, chief among the many issues are time, money and determination.

The desire is there in most Latinas I know. Is having ganas (desire) enough to overcome obstacles such as low income, early motherhood and expectations to be at home with the kids? It takes an independent and strong Latina to buckle down, do the research, decide what to study, where to go, how to finance it and then dedicate the time and energy to getting it all done.

Cecilia Quiroz, a 28-year-old, single mother is living proof that it can be done. It took her five years to get her Associate of Arts degree as a part-time student, another four years to earn a bachelor’s and an additional year to receive her master’s. Now, at 42 years old, she’s working towards her doctorate in Forensic Psychology. She’s teaching at the college level and helping other Latinas get back into school to pursue their educational aspirations.

What are the benefits for Latinas? For some, it’s just being a role model, for others it is breaking the cycle of poverty. Higher education pays off. A 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics report gives the median weekly earnings of individuals with advanced degrees at $1,351, compared to $626 for those with only high school diplomas.

I was fortunate that my family supported my pursuing a degree. But, obtaining a bachelor’s was no easy feat for a rebellious teenager who chose to drop out of high school at 15 years old. By the grace of God and the prayers of my grandmother and parents, I took my GED test on my 16th birthday, passed and applied to college that same year.

My mother, who didn’t attend college, had no idea how to help me with college enrollment. Luckily, I had a Latina mentor who drove me to ASU in her blue Jeep Cherokee and helped me apply. That act of kindness by Dr. Anna Solley (now the president of Phoenix College) was a turning point for me.
Going back to school can be scary and hard, but not having an education and not earning a decent salary is even more difficult. Today, I am committing to the goal of finishing my master’s and then, perhaps, I’ll pursue a doctorate.

Bridgette, Cecilia and countless other Latinas have informed me that they are returning to school to make a better life for themselves and their families. “Anyone who wants to return to school or start school, they can and they should!” says Quiroz.

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