Hispanic students face barriers in attending college

Virginia Bullington

Assistant Editor

(December 17, 2015)

Jackie Echeverria, a Spanish teacher at Nantucket High School and the advisor of the Diversity Club, was born in El Salvador. She was the first one in her family to attend college.

“I had really wanted to do that,” said Echeverria. “And I had the opportunity to do that.”

Many of Echeverria’s students on the island who were not born in the United States may not get that same opportunity of obtaining a post-secondary education. Immigration status, language barriers, and financial circumstances all factor into a student’s ability to continue their education after high school. While there is no federal law prohibiting undocumented students from applying to college, many schools require that applicants submit proof of citizenship in order to gain entry. Furthermore, many institutions charge undocumented students out-of-state tuition rates, even if they have been long time residents of the state. Due to these factors and various others, a large portion of students at NHS choose to work once they get out of school, rather than attending college. One of these students, Alonso Carranza, who is currently a freshman at NHS, has no plans to go to college.

“I like to work,” said Carranza in an interview translated from Spanish. “I want to help my family that is in El Salvador.”

According to the College Board, tuition at public universities now averages $23,893 for out-of-state students, which would be a financial burden for Carranza’s family. While affording college can be a challenge for many families, regardless of nationality or native language, there are far fewer resources for English Language Learners who have moved in their teenage years to the United States.

“The college process is a lot for everyone, I agree. But it’s harder for someone who wants to keep studying but doesn’t have the assistance they need,” said Jhoselin Dubon, a NHS senior who moved to the island from El Salvador when she was just seven years old. “The language barrier just multiplies the difficulty since they don’t understand what to do.”

Dubon does plan to enroll in college after high school, as she would like to pursue a career in education. However, because she immigrated when she was in elementary school, rather than in high school, adapting to a different way of life in a new country was much easier.

“It does make the transition smoother coming as a elementary school student,” said Dubon. “First of all because of the language, you definitely learn more as a child, and I feel as though students struggle more with it when they start learning it in high school or middle school.”

The language barrier is another reason that many foreign-born students are hesitant about making college plans. Mario Reyes Chacon, currently a freshman at NHS, moved here just a few weeks before the school year started. He came from San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. When asked if he planned to attend a college or university after high school, Chacon responded in Spanish:

“I don’t know. If I learn English well, maybe I will apply to a university. If not, maybe I will work or try to go to an institute, or community college.”

If he had the opportunity to go to college, he aspires to be a lawyer, a doctor, or an administrator. The barriers to a college education for ELL students are especially important to address on Nantucket because the percentage of foreign-born students is increasing rapidly at the Nantucket Public schools. According to WCAI, the National Public Radio Station for the Cape and the Islands, now one in four elementary school students on Nantucket is Hispanic, with 12 percent of students in the process of learning English. Compare that with 21 percent of the high school’s student body being Hispanic, and only two ELL teachers.

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