Spring time is always a time I enjoy, not only because the warm weather begins to arrive but because it means I get the opportunity to enjoy all of the high school and college graduations and feel proud of all the students who have worked hard to achieve an educational milestone. As a daughter of Mexican immigrants and the first one in my family to attend and graduate college, I understand the challenges that my fellow first generation college students embrace as they pursue an education.
According to a recent working paper submitted for the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (ASWSW) Grand Challenges initiative, Latinos in the United States ‘are more likely than other immigrant groups to concentrate in low-income occupations and to experience limited educational attainment’. According to the authors, these experiences represent the unsuccessful integration of our Latino population and one of the most important challenges to be embraced. The working paper outlines an asset based approach to embrace the successful integration of an exponentially growing population in the U.S. The document is part of one of twelve Grand Challenges embraced by the social work profession.
Four years ago, social work leaders and educators gathered together to strategize on the future of the social work profession, especially its role in the 21st Century. An idea sprouted, based on historical success and trends from other disciplines, to produce a set of 12 “Grand Challenges” that address the social agenda of the profession.
One of the 12 Grand Challenges, produced by experts in the AASWSW is to produce equal opportunity and justice. Nationally in our country, many groups of people continue to be excluded from society. The historical and ‘current prejudice and injustice bars access to success in education and employment.’
In Western Colorado, and more specifically in the Roaring Fork Valley, the group of individuals who more commonly face unequal access and opportunity to education and employment is our Latino immigrant population. According to the 2010 Colorado Mountain College TRIO Upward Bound Grant Report, the majority of working poor in Western Garfield County are Hispanic/Latino, with incomes up to 15% lower than their White counterparts. In addition, area Hispanic/Latino residents are dramatically more deficient in education when compared to the rest of Colorado and to the White population. In 2010, 61% of the total student drop outs from high schools in Western Garfield were Hispanic/Latino students. To add to the dramatic statistics – 97% of Latinos/Hispanics in Western Garfield County hold an educational level below a bachelor’s college degree.
The daunting statistics may seem impossible to change but not for social workers because we believe in the power of systems and asset based approaches. Our social work profession is remarkably positioned to address the challenge of equal opportunity and justice and in particular increasing educational and employment access to our local Latino population.
My call is to all professionals from all disciplines because innovation requires every single one of us and together we can create and implement solutions that focus on the culture capital of our diverse community and facilitate the successful integration of every individual.
Colorado Mountain College – TRIO Upward Bound Grant Data
Photo Credits: American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare Website: http://aaswsw.org/grand-challenges-initiative/