What you should know about communicating education to Latinos

This month, Latinos in California will surpass the population of non-Latino Caucasians and will make Latinos the largest ethnic group in the state. The growth of the Latino population is not just limited to California, it is nationwide. As this population grows, it becomes even more vital that the Latino community improves its access to higher education. Latinos lag behind all other ethnicities when it comes to educational achievement. Only about 13 percent of Latinos hold a college degree or higher, in comparison to about 33 percent of the general population.

In California, about 27 percent of Latinos do not graduate from high school, in comparison with 21 percent of all high school students. However, changes are happening, as we are now seeing the highest educational achievement rates ever among Latinos. Despite that, though, there is still more work to be done. Policy and resources are important drivers of change; however I would argue that a key ingredient for success is strategic communications to the community.

Parents are hungry for information

Do not assume that Latino parents do not value education. Surprisingly, this is a common misconception. In fact, the opposite is true. Public opinion research has shown that Latino parents are highly interested in their children’s education. Education is often the top issue ranked as “extremely important” among Latino voters in the past presidential election. Education was ranked higher in importance than the economy, healthcare or immigration. Consequently, it is important to make communications culturally relevant to Latino parents. This means developing communications in both English and Spanish but, most importantly, understanding the experience, sensitivities and motivations of the Latino community. Many Latino students are the first ones in their families to attend college. Government and educational institutions cannot expect that the same communications plans and methods directed at the general population will also successfully serve the Latino population. Latino parents need information in mostly two key areas: access and awareness of the academic preparation requirements needed for college and the required financial preparation, regardless of economic status.

A corporate program doing a good job at addressing this need with parents is Univision’s Ya es el momento. The program uses the power of the Univision brand in the community and the common ground of its talent to help inform Latino parents. The program includes PSAs, special programs and segments on education to be broadcast on Univision properties and establishing relationships with community organizations at the grassroots level.  Since its launch in 2010, the program has gained the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education.

Corporate/community partnerships work

Univision’s decision to embrace education as its main corporate cause is brilliant. Not only is education the issue rated as most important by Latinos, but it is also far less controversial than immigration reform,  another cause this community strongly supports. Latinos appreciate companies that take an interest in supporting education in its community and this topic affords so much less distraction in which the real message can get lost. Companies such as Wells Fargo and The Coca Cola Company have recently launched programs to help support education of Latino students in partnership with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the country’s largest not-for-profit organization supporting higher education. Wells Fargo recently partnered with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund donating more than $8 million to launch a College Camp Series. The program included bilingual workshops and panels to help students and their parents prepare for college in 2013-2014. The program included events held in cities with large Hispanic populations. This school calendar year Coca Cola’s The Share Possibilities Program awarded $200,000 to help close the college attainment gap among Latino students. If you are looking for a CSR program that can win big in the Latino community, an education-related program is the answer. Or if you are a communications professional at a non-profit and are looking for ways to help your program grow, a corporate partner could be the way to go.

Grassroots community involvement is a must

Latino culture is community-oriented; therefore, for any education related program to be successful it is important that it be implemented at the grassroots level. It is not enough to have a website, a hotline and a media awareness campaign. It is important to get the neighborhoods involved by working with organizations that have strong community presence and the support of those highly respected in the community such as small business owners, teachers, religious leaders and others. This is precisely the concept behind the Mission Promise Neighborhood Initiative, a program announced last year funded by a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help raise educational achievement scores for students in San Francisco’s Mission High Schools in the Mission District.  The program works with 26 local non-profits that have strong local presence. Our agency is currently working with the Mission Promise Neighborhood.

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