How Latinx Students Can Empower and Engage Their Parents in Their College Education

My parents, like many others, immigrated to this country in search of a better life. They were ultimately investing in my future success by doing so. I was raised with strong family and cultural values that I carry with me to this day. Over the years, they taught me the importance of sacrifice, hard work and dedication. In addition, they expected me to earn a college degree. 

As a first-generation college student, I was unaware of the process and all the implications of attending a university. Financial aid, the application process, room and board, selecting courses, how to balance school with my work schedule…the list goes on. Aside from that, my parents still trusted me to ask the necessary questions, navigate the system and be successful. Yet, part of me constantly wished they could assimilate the college process and help me through it. 

Looking back at my college career, I strongly believe institutions should do more to engage Latino parents. Many campuses are not allocating enough time and resources to address the issue. Most universities provide brochures or pamphlets of broad campus information during open house to families and friends of incoming students. From personal experience, my university couldn’t provide a brochure in Spanish that I could give to my parents. This simply reflects how a school can fail to cater to the needs of its student body and unfortunately pushes an entire group aside. 

There are many articles, research and statistics that explain how a school system may lack the ability to address the specific needs of Latino parents and increase involvement. What can be done from our behalf? Here are a few steps that can be taken by us, students and parents, to bridge the gap:

1. Touring parents through the college campus. 

Walking them through the campus so they have an idea and understanding of what your day looks like, where your classes are located, the library, the dining hall, etc. This will give them a visual understanding of what the campus offers and allow them to feel more connected. I am positive many questions will arise throughout the duration of the college visit 

2. Setting up a meeting with an advisor. 

Advisors are on-campus to ensure that students meet all graduation requirements and assist with any career plans. They are a great resource to first-generation students who may be unsure o how to navigate the system. When my parents met with a student advisor, they were able to address all academic concerns and have more insight on what my college had to offer. Many colleges have Spanish-speaking advisors as Latino parents may struggle with the language and cultural barriers.

3. Having an open dialogue conversation. 

This can be about the student’s career aspirations, ideas, academic goals, etc. When students are open and honest about their interests, this will increase parents confidence in their knowledge and awareness. Simply pushing the topic aside or keeping a conversation very high-level does not correlate with parental engagement.  

The phrase “parental involvement in education” encompasses their participation beyond academics. Furthermore, this phrase is defined differently in every family. In my case, this meant awareness of which direction I wanted to steer my career and also emotional support at every stage in my college career.

It is important to note that the student academic success rate is correlated with familial support and understanding of the system. This will very likely rise as parents become more engaged so I empower you to take the necessary steps to remain involved.

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Melisa Zarate

Melisa Zarate

Melisa Zarate is currently an analyst at Goldman Sachs. She grew up in a small town on the Central Coast and attended public schools K-12. As a first-generation college graduate, Melisa attended California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo and earned a degree in Business Administration with a concentration in finance. She is passionate about community, equity and education.

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