Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Latinos are California's economic opportunity

We must advocate investment in Latino education to boost our economic engine.
By Melinda Guzman, Trustee of the California State University
(Special to The Latino Journal)

SACRAMENTO, CA - The California Public Policy Institute recently reported that California will need to import college educated workers in order to sustain, let alone grow the economy. And at a time when both our federal and state governments are experiencing virtual meltdowns in budget talks which threaten to further shrink our already dismal economies, now is the time to invest even more capital in education. Since Latinos represent nearly 40% of California’s population and an increasing number of small businesses, it is critical that the state invest in this growing and important community. Dwindling investments in education only threaten the potential growth of our economy and we must all advocate investment in Latino education. Latinos are a vital key to our state’s economic growth.

Last week, leaders from California's three main public higher education systems met with Governor Jerry Brown to advocate for continued investment in higher education. Their timing couldn’t be more critical. California added nearly 100,000 new jobs in February. At the same time, however, the realities of the state's budget deficit are threatening cuts beyond the $1.4 billion proposed in January for the California State University, the University of California and the California Community Colleges. These shocking figures mean only more cuts to students, programs and jobs which cannot immediately be absorbed elsewhere. The drastic impact on the Latino community and the lack of investment in the Latino education also will undoubtedly result in devastating impacts on our economy for decades to come.

The private sector must play a significant role in creating educational and economic opportunities for all Californians, not because it is the “right” thing to do, or the legally mandated thing to do, but because it is the only smart business thing to do in a state where over half of kindergarten classes are Latino and yet only half or less of its high school graduates mirror the population. And it is the only wise business decision in a state where Hispanics and Asians constitute more than 50 percent of the state's population.

Business communities must form strategic partnerships with the Latino community to ensure that the doors to higher education open -- and remain open -- as California seeks to re-establish itself as a world economic leader. The business sector must serve as a critical link between the private and public sector and a growing Latino community -- one that is the largest single ethnic group in our state.

The California Public Policy Institute study only suggests that California continues to paddle up a stream without paddles amidst a growing tsunami. The state needs more college educated workers and entrepreneurs to meet its future economic needs. And given that Latino students continue to grow in numbers, but still have not made significant improvements on the high school achievement gap, what it means is that California legislators, public policy leaders, educators and most importantly, business leaders and the community as a whole must realize that we need to start educating the students we have in our state, graduate them from high school, send them to college and graduate them in 4 years in order to grow our economy. There should be no reason to import educated workers from outside of California or from foreign countries. There are plenty of students in California, many of them Latino students, who are capable of learning, graduating and helping expand and grow this economy. But the investment must come now in our educational systems to ensure they learn, graduate and grow as our educated workers and entrepreneurs.

Latinos serve as the linking bridge between California's work force, consumer and customer base, and business leadership. They are at the forefront of economic and educational advancement. And as business leaders we have to step up to ensure that we erase the growing achievement gap in Latino high school graduation rates in comparison to other groups.

As community leaders, we have to be part of the solution for closing the state budget deficit. The California State University system's share of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget cuts is $500 million, and we have been planning for that reduction without additional increases in student tuition or large-scale cuts in enrollment. Further reductions in support to the CSU system, however, will likely require large, structural changes and jeopardize the access to quality higher education that for decades has been a hallmark of our system. It also threatens to halt the important advances we’ve made in Latino graduation rates at a time when the state simply cannot afford to cancel its investment in this important community. The CSU system currently graduates more Latinos with baccalaureate degrees than any other system. We need to increase those numbers, not decrease them.

We know that when the economy bounces back, there will be a demand for educated graduates in all segments of the workforce. California will be better served by those jobs staying here at home rather than having employers look to other states or nations to fill those jobs.

Latinos are California’s economic opportunity. As we face of an economic tsunami, the role of Latinos is extremely significant. California's economy is dependent upon a labor force, customer base, business group and leadership from a majority-minority base. And, with only approximately 50 percent of Latino high school students graduating from high school and fewer attending or graduating from college, we must promote education like never before. We must challenge the policies and leadership which led to stagnation in our schools.

We must properly fund higher education. We must invest in our future to ensure we have the proper tools, employees and entrepreneurs to build a stronger, global economy. We each hold the keys to open doors and create opportunities. But we must open them together, and walk through united in order to build, grow and prosper as a community. ______________________________________________________

Melinda Guzman, Esq. serves as a Trustee of the California State University, the largest university system in the United States. She also serves as a Commissioner with the California Post Secondary Education Commission and is a former member of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges. She is a Director of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, the former General Counsel of the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a principal of Melinda Guzman Professional Corporation. She can be reached at mgm@gfsacto.com

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