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WIND POINT - Something must be done about the low educational outcomes of Hispanics, experts said Tuesday at a local conference on the subject.

Only 12.7 percent of the about 51 million Hispanics in the U.S. are college graduates, the experts said.

They didn't provide a specific blueprint for raising that percentage but they did offer several ideas to start making changes for today's Hispanic students in Racine County and elsewhere. They suggested more college options for Hispanics, more classes that incorporate Hispanic culture and more community collaboration, among other ideas.

"It's not a matter of reinventing the wheel but a matter of looking at things and saying, ‘What can we do differently?' " said conference speaker Arturo Martinez, a Horlick High School graduate and the associate dean of pre-college and bilingual education at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Martinez spoke with two others during the conference on strategies to improve educational outcomes for Hispanics. The conference, held at The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, 33 E. 4 Mile Road, was attended by about 60 educators and community members.

Martinez told those attendees about dual-enrollment programs, which have high school students take classes that count toward both high school and college credits. Such programs help Hispanic students by providing another educational option and by helping bridge the gap between high school and college so students have a smoother transition, are more prepared for college courses and are less likely to drop out.

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"A lot (Hispanics) do not make it through the first year of college because they don't have the skills," Martinez said. "This type of program helps them develop that."

Classes in college and at K-12 schools should also include Hispanic culture and history because if students find a relevance between school and their lives they are more apt to stay in school, said conference speaker Enrique Figueroa, associate professor and director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Roberto Hernandez Center, which provides academic services to promote Hispanic student success.

Fellow conference speaker Luis Baez agreed schools should practice such "culturally relevant" methods. They should also do character building to turn out students with morals, perseverance, tolerance and more, said Baez, executive director of Milwaukee's Council for the Spanish Speaking.

To make such things a classroom focus - and to bring about other change - leaders must create a "context for change" by putting the right people in charge and by working with the community every step of the way, Baez said.

Figueroa agreed that community engagement is key if society wants to move the number of U.S. Hispanics with college degrees from 12.7 percent to a number closer to that of other U.S. groups like whites, 31.1 percent of whom are college graduates.

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