A shortage of “college knowledge” may hinder Latino families from realizing their dreams of a college education for their children, according to a recent study by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI). With national attention focused on the “achievement gap” between low-income Latino and other minority students and their middle-class Anglo counterparts, the TRPI study identified a different but related gap—between the aspirations Latino parents have for their children’s school success and their knowledge of how to help them attain it.
The PALMS (Postsecondary Access for Latino Middle Grades Students) Project, based at EDC, seeks to narrow that gap. The project features a Web site that provides up-to-date information and resources on college access programs and initiatives for middle school staff, community-based organizations serving Latino youth, and university-based outreach staff. PALMS is a partnership between EDC, LULAC National Educational Service Centers (LNESC), and the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform.
Targeting college access initiatives toward the middle grades is essential, says PALMS Project Director Amy Clark. “Middle school is the time when young people are forming a sense of who they are and who they can become. If they see themselves as college bound, it orients them toward more challenging, college-prep courses in high school.”
It is also important to raise the expectations of school-based counselors and advisors about what Latino students should be doing to get ready for high school, Clark explains. “If the assumption is that a particular teen is going on to college, counselors will guide that teen in different directions than they would if they assume the student is not college-bound,” says Clark. “PALMS tries to address these assumptions as early as sixth grade.”
Parents with limited incomes also need to start thinking early about college decisions, according to Clark. “If parents know about financing options, they are more willing to support their children’s aspirations to go to college,” she says. “Otherwise financial obstacles seem so large that many families are stopped in their tracks.”
In September 2004, PALMS staff launched the PALMS Parent Outreach Study, designed to examine how college access programs across the country are working to inform Latino families about what it takes to prepare a child for postsecondary education. PALMS staff conducted in-depth interviews with staff from university- and community-based programs to learn about their work with parents of Latino middle-grades students.
The results of the study are now available on the PALMS Web site. In addition to sharing the general findings of the study, the PALMS site offers a review of successful strategies that college and other access programs use, program profiles, and a summary of related research.
A follow-up study on successful middle school outreach programs is underway and will be available on the site next fall. Project staff are also developing a toolkit for middle school staff that will translate the best parent outreach strategies into concrete guidelines and tools that schools can put to use right away. “We will provide relevant, field-tested resources that school personnel can use to launch or strengthen outreach efforts,” says Clark. “Drawing upon our extensive experience working with the Latino community, the toolkit will help schools conduct their outreach and support in a manner that is culturally sensitive and tailored to local realities.”
Originally published on September 1, 2005