UA College of Humanities Announces Latino Policy Research Initiative

Julieta Gonzalez
June 24, 2004

Bridging the gap between academic scholarship and public policy for the betterment of Latino communities in Arizona and the Southwest lies at the core of the University of Arizona's College of Humanities Latino Policy Research Initiative (LPRI).

The LPRI is a public policy research initiative designed and committed to generate a program of evaluation of public policies. LPRI will communicate findings to policy makers, business and community leaders to implement changes in public policies as needed. The LPRI director, José Luis Santos says that the impetus for the initiative is the growth in the state's Latino population, largely fueled by young school-bound children. The initial focus is to examine the educational system in the face of the Latino and other under-represented populations' academic and economic achievement.

"Our idea is to amass scholars and take an interdisciplinary approach to look at existing policies, evaluate what's working and what isn't. As institutions of higher learning, we continue to talk about increasing access for Latinos in the higher education pipeline. We really can't speak to that sincerely without addressing the K through 12 system. We have to take a comprehensive, system-wide approach," says Santos.

According to Santos, the Latino population in the state of Arizona had a surge of 88-percent growth between 1990 and 2000 as reflected by the most recent United States Census. Latinos represent 25 percent of the state's population. "This intense demographic growth in our state and in others makes this a critical population with specific issues," says Santos. "As these issues relate to our state," says Santos, "we want to focus our efforts on education and how to improve the condition of Latinos in education through policy."

Santos adds that the enrollment rate for Latino students at the UA is 14 percent for undergraduates. "We would have to increase our enrollment and graduation rate by 75 percent in order to achieve parity with the state's population."

Charles Tatum, dean of the College of Humanities believes that collaborations, such as those proposed by the LPRI between Humanities and the Colleges of Education and Social and Behavioral Sciences and other colleges are vital. At this time, Tatum and Santos, along with representatives from other colleges are planning a multi-disciplinary conference at the UA for fall 2005. Top-level researchers from around the country will meet at the UA. "People who are conducting cutting-edge research on various aspects of Latino education will come together with school district superintendents, principals and teachers, "says Tatum. "The discussions between scholars and practitioners, hopefully, will translate research not only into classroom practices but also into policy changes. It will have a very practical dimension.."

From the UA's perspective, the LPRI's goals will ultimately help with the recruitment and retention of Latino students. "The sheer demographic increase in the Latino population is not necessarily going to guarantee us greater enrollment nor graduation rates," says Juan Garcia, vice provost for academic affairs at the UA. "We have to do a much better job of partnering with the K through 12 system, with parents and with community colleges. These children need to start thinking early on about the possibilities as well as the rewards that can come from a college education. If we wait until they're in high school, our chances of getting them to enroll at the university decline dramatically."

Garcia says that having the program in the College of Humanities reflects the drive and the commitment of Dean Charles Tatum. "He's been an innovator and has the passion and the courage to do this. That's what it takes, someone who is willing to step up and do it. Many people don't have that kind of courage because you put yourself in a vulnerable position. If you succeed, everyone takes credit. If you fail, you'll be blamed."

One of the Initiative's goals is to "provide critical, independent, objective and applied research on public policy issues pertaining to the rapidly growing Latino population in the areas of education reform, post-secondary access and affordability, economic, science and technology, affordable housing, public finance and economic development."

Garcia indicates that "the university has a responsibility as a land grant institution to serve the needs of the people. We have a very diverse population with many and various needs. The university is in a good position to use its influence, its stature and its leadership to make these policies a reality."

The state will ultimately benefit from informed, multi-disciplinary research from many sources. Garcia says that the UA can no longer afford to be a bystander and observer in Arizona's education of children. He says that "This initiative will put meaning behind our rhetoric. Not only will the university see higher enrollment and graduation rates for Hispanic students, but the benefits will be widespread."

Tatum has long held this belief and has already initiated several partnerships with K-12 schools in the Sunnyside School District and the Tucson Unified School District. He states: "On a practical level, you have thousands of kids in elementary school who could potentially be headed to college and become a huge economic driving force in the state. The University of Arizona should invest at least some of its vast reservoir of scholarly and intellectual expertise in helping the State of Arizona to solve its K through 12 porous pipeline problem."

Garcia adds that the entire country will benefit from an educated population. "We're moving into a time in our history where we have to think seriously about who is going to be the leadership of the next generation of young people. Diversity is a reality. The changing face of America will require different perspectives, viewpoints and different kinds of leadership. It's our responsibility to do everything we can to prepare students of any age to go out into this new world."

Santos, a recent UA graduate with a doctorate in higher education economics and finance policy, says that eventually, the findings of the LPRI will provide enough objective data on critical Latino public policy issues to state and federal legislators. "The centerpiece of this initiative is concrete policy research and change," says Santos. "When you look at the educational system at present within the racial and ethnic context in our schools, many laws and policies are still addressing the ills from the segregated past. We can't wait another 50 years for a shift in educational policy. The need is here and now."


Resources for the media

Jos Luis Santos, director
Latino Policy Research Initiative
(520) 626-1899
Charles Tatum, dean
College of Humanities
(520) 621-1044
Juan Garcia, vice provost for academic affairs
(520) 621-1856