Why Aren’t Students Rallying for College Loan Forgiveness Plans?

Student Loan ForgivenessA recent article related to student loan debt suicides written by C.Cryn Johannsen for the Huffington Post, left me speechless. The number of young people taking their lives because they can’t afford to repay their loans is not only devastating but is likely going to increase.

When you think about the large mobilization of Latino organizations and students in support of the Dream Act and to push for the extension of the 3.4% interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans that we’ve seen in the last few months, the silence around the Student Loan Forgiveness Act (H.R.4170), which was introduced by Representative Hansen Clarke of Michigan in the House of Representatives in March, is shocking. (Briefly, Mr. Clarke’s bill would create a “10-10 standard” for student loan forgiveness, which means that if you make payments equal to 10% of your discretionary income for 10 years, your remaining federal student loan debt would be forgiven. The bill caps interest rates on federal loans at 3.4%. It also allows borrowers whose educational loan debt exceeds their income to break free from the high interest rates of private loans by converting them into federal Direct Loans, and then enrolling those into the 10-10 program.)

I can’t help but wonder about the lack of engagement with a topic that deeply affects every single current and future college student. While many of us hope for a permanent solution to the Dreamers’ current situation, we can’t deny that theirs is an issue that affects a minority of Hispanic students. And, ironically, those undocumented students at risk of being deported are the ones who have demonstrated across the country, marched from San Francisco to Washington, and appeared in front of TV cameras to share their stories. With everything to lose, they are the ones who came together to fight for their rights and their beliefs. And I say ironically because, in a way, the DREAMers are outside of the system. They can’t get federal loans, subsidies or any other government benefits reserved for American citizens and legal residents; and still they came out and protested until their plea was heard. Until something, even if temporary, was done about it.

During the weeks leading to the vote in Congress to extend the 3.4% rate on Stafford loans (a rate that had only been in place since last July) for one more year we saw so much media coverage on the issue that you would’ve thought the decision would have huge impact on the $1 trillion college debt. But no, apparently only 3% of that debt comes from Stafford loans. Yet not only politicians, who were working the electorate, spent countless words on this topic, but also plenty of students and Hispanic organizations raised their voices about the unfairness of letting the temporary low-rate provision elapse.

My question is, why aren’t Hispanic students, organizations and leaders rallying for a college loan forgiveness plan – whether it is the H.R.4170 or another bill? Why aren’t students who have trouble finding a job in this economy and who have mortgaged their future on the promise that a college degree would offer them better opportunities screaming at the top of their lungs on the steps of Congress instead of thinking of ways to commit suicide, as many are doing? Why aren’t they demanding increased funding for the Pell grant or lower interest rates on other federal college loans when interest rates are at historic lows?

Why is it that Hispanic students are not organizing to fight for the same bailout benefits we gave to banks? For the right to discharge their loans in bankruptcy court? Why aren’t they demanding that tuition costs be reined in and asking for a complete revamping of the laws that regulate student loans and benefit predatory lenders?

There’s a movement called Occupy Graduation that’s been picking up steam across the country (and which I hope doesn’t fizzle as Occupy Wall Street seems to have). It’s a coalition of partners fighting to bring these issues to the front line. Why aren’t Hispanic students and organizations jumping on this bandwagon?  Since a larger number of Hispanics than ever before are enrolling in college, this is a problem that affects this community as much, if not more, than all others. Why the apathy? What are we all waiting for?

Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.


This article was originally published on Fox News Latino.


What’s Wrong with the Education System?

What's wrong with the education system?Every time I attend an education conference, I feel as if I’m entering a time capsule. I am immediately transported to the early 90s, when I was first involved in education. Back then, people were having the same conversations over teachers who don’t know how to engage their students in the learning process, parents who don’t participate enough, and students who are disenfranchised.

Why do educators continue to question the solutions to poor performance when there’s plenty of research to validate what works? Things like early childhood education, high expectations, rigorous instruction, good teachers with degrees in their area of instruction, an inspiring and creative environment, exposure to a variety of experiences that open children’s minds, a longer school year, a school culture that embraces diversity, leadership that nurtures innovation, after-school support for those who need it, early intervention, a college bound mentality that permeates the entire school system from pre-K to high school, and preparing students to attend colleges with a posse of their peers  have all proven to be effective strategies.

But what would really help to break through the status quo in our education system is for the educators and administrators to recognize that new perspective is needed to see some of the solutions that are invisible to them right now.

What do I mean? Inevitably, all of us look at the world through the filters of our own personal experience and belief system. These filters are responsible for the assumptions every one of us makes all the time. The problem is that we are usually not aware of those filters and of the fact that we act according to our assumptions.

So, if you believe that the students in your care can achieve great things, they will. If you believe they can’t, they won’t. Either way, you will be proven right because you will align your actions with your assumptions and it is through your actions that you will impact these students.

This is easy to see when you look at how the adults in the school system deal with college readiness when it comes to non-white students, an area in which the system has been failing for decades. A young Latino junior walks into the guidance counselor’s office asking for college information. The guidance counselor takes one look at the student, assumes he is not Ivy League material and that his family will need him to work to contribute financially to the household. The counselor then shares information on technical schools and local two-year community colleges and sends the student on his way. Now this kid’s parents, not knowing any better, encourage their child to follow the guidance counselor’s advice without questioning it.

What would have happened if this counselor had been better trained to see her own filters and assumptions so that she could have offered a more comprehensive list of options? The student would have a completely different career outlook. I’m not saying the guidance counselor is racist. What I am saying is that unless she’s trained to perceive her own filters and the consequences of not keeping them in check, she’ll do what comes natural to all of us –  she will use her past experience, imbue it with her belief system, and offer information she thinks is relevant to this student. And most of this happens subconsciously in a few seconds after the student enters her office.

When the adults in the school system don’t consider that they are part of the problem affecting students and parent engagement, the needle doesn’t move. They keep on trying to reinvent the wheel when the wheel has been around for a long time. The truth is that it would be pretty simple to fix the educational system if the parties involved could stop putting the problem outside of themselves and agree to examine their own assumptions with regard to teaching and learning.

Mariela Dabbah is the CEO of, a renown speaker, media contributor and award-winning author. Her new book: Poder de Mujer will be released March, 2012 by Penguin.

Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.

This article was originally published on Fox News Latino.

What Colleges Can Learn from Big Corporations about Latino Recruitment

What Colleges Can Learn from Big Corporations about Latino RecruitmentYou know we are in trouble when none of the high profile panelists at a conference on Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education can answer one simple question: What is your university doing to recruit and retain more Hispanic students?

The roundabout answers my question received from the four panelists – all Human Resource and Diversity leaders at top private universities – propelled a woman in the audience to insist that the panel circle back to my question after the conversation had moved in a different direction. I was more stunned by the determination of this woman (herself a high level diversity professional at an Ivy League school) not to let her colleagues off the hook than by fact that the panelists had avoided giving me a straight answer. “We need more research to find out why these students drop out” was one panelist’s response. “I’m not the best person to talk about this,” said another one.

Judging from the panel’s reaction, it was obvious that they actually didn’t have an answer. Unfortunately, what also became apparent is part of the reason why so little has changed in the last few decades in terms of inclusion and retention of diverse students in higher education. Unknowingly, the panelists revealed that the people who are in charge of finding solutions to the problem hide behind futile efforts that produce few results.

Colleges seem to be late coming into the Diversity and Inclusion conversations that have been taking place in corporations and organizations for years. The truth is that higher education should borrow a few pages from the books of those corporations that excel at D&I. Not surprisingly, successful strategies for recruiting and retaining Hispanics in corporations also work when it comes to college students.

1. Look for talent where the talent tends to be.

2. Create a culture of coaching and mentoring.

3. Provide growth opportunities for your diverse talent to feel engaged and welcomed in your organization.

Most schools don’t think of expanding practices that could vastly impact their Hispanic recruitment such as paying for campus visits for students who can’t afford to travel out- of-town; sending recruiters to Hispanic communities; promoting colleges’ financial aid programs more widely so students understand that in many cases, when they are admitted, they get a free ride; and providing mentors to incoming freshmen who can help them adjust to life in college, choose the right courses, and find other keys to successfully navigating the first year in school.

That’s largely how you attract and keep Hispanic students in college. Why so many colleges are scratching their heads about implementing some of these steps is anyone’s guess. But one thing is certain: if they don’t start making changes soon, we will all feel the consequences of a large, uneducated workforce.

Mariela Dabbah’s new book Poder de Mujer was just released by Penguin. She’s a leadership consultant for corporations and organizations, an award winning author and renown public speaker. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization that helps students and families find everything they need to succeed in college.  


Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.

This article was orginally published on Fox News Latino. 


Time Magazine Cover Features Latinos – Finally!

Time Magazine Cover Features Latinos – Finally!I’m a faithful subscriber to Time magazine, so let’s get that out of the way. For the last three or four years I’ve regularly sent letters to Managing Editor Richard Stengel requesting more stories about Latinos, other than the occasional mention in a negative story discussing how poorly Hispanics do in education or how much they are affected by diabetes.

I wrote letters to complain about the lack of Latinos in Times’ list of 100 Most Influential People. What about the innovators, scientists, teachers and entrepreneurs who are impacting our economy and our lives? Are you telling me that among a population of 50 million Time couldn’t find one influential Latino worthy of the list? The only Latin American who made it in 2011 was Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi who lives in Barcelona.

I wrote applauding the hiring of Indian-American Fareed Zakaria, a brilliant mind and talented writer, and suggested that Time needed to also add some Latino voices. None of my letters were ever published or the issues acknowledged. Enter Steven Wolfe-Pereira, EVP and Managing Director of MV42, the multicultural arm of MediaVest, and Robin Steinberg, EVP of Publishing Investment and Activation at MediaVest.

According to Wolfe-Pereira the duo met with several English-language thought-leadership publications to share their thoughts on how to shift from “Multicultural Marketing” to “Marketing to a Multicultural Nation.” Stengel was among the leaders they met with. “Recognizing how Hispanics were truly going to impact the 2012 elections, Stengel decided to not only do the article, but was motivated to make a statement, hence he put the “Hispanic Voter” on the cover and for the first time in the magazine’s history had the copy in Spanish,” said Wolfe-Pereira.

As Wolfe-Pereira said in his email, “the implications are huge” because Time Magazine “sets the news cycle and the tone for the national conversation.” And for this, we do owe our gratitude to MediaVest’s team.

But I can’t help wonder if the front cover reflects an honest recognition of the power of Hispanics in the country and it is the beginning of ongoing coverage, or if it only plays to an election year’s news-cycle.

I wish Time had put us on the cover to acknowledge that Hispanic small business growth regularly outpaces the national average. Or because one of its journalists had written an article on the growing number of Latinas entrepreneurs, or on the lower rates of divorce Latinos have compared with most other groups except Asians.

I seriously hope that Time’s editorial team understands that the concept of “Multicultural Nation” goes beyond the months preceding an election. That Hispanics are making an impact across multiple industries, and that they should not only enter the public conversation when they become the voting block that can decide the election.

But for now I take it. Being on the cover of Time can only mean that the Latino voter is here to stay. Perhaps going forward, this voter will become a lot more and it will be worthy of attention in between elections.

Mariela Dabbah is the CEO of Latinos in College a renowned speaker, media contributor and award-winning author. Her new book Poder de Mujer  will be released March 6, 2012 by Penguin.

Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.

This article was originally published on Fox News Latino.

Record Hispanic Enrollment in 4-year Colleges — Why?

Record Hispanic Enrollment in 4-year Colleges -- Why?It’s always great news to hear that there’s been a record increase in Hispanic college enrollment to the point that Hispanics are now the largest minority group on four-year college campuses.

The Pew Hispanic Center has just released an analysis of newly available U.S. Census Bureau data indicating that for the first time, the number of 18-24-year-old Hispanics enrolled in four year colleges increased 20 percent from 1.0 million in 2010 to 1.2 million in 2011. Hispanics now represent a record of 16.5  percent of all college enrollments. In other words, the percentage of Hispanics on campus is the same as the percentage of Hispanics in the total population of the U.S. YAY!

Now the question that has more than a few people scratching their heads is, why? Why such a large increase in such a short period of time? Is it just reflective of Hispanic population growth? Apparently, not. According to Pew Hispanic Fund, this doesn’t account for the substantial increase.

So, here are some of my theories.

There’s an increasingly larger second generation of children born in the U.S. (now 52 percent of the nation’s 16 million Hispanic kids,) who are more acculturated and have all the advantages in terms of financial aid afforded to U.S. citizens. In addition, in part thanks to the Internet, these students socialize with college- bound kids of Hispanic and other ethnic backgrounds.

  1. In the last decade, there has been a strong, consistent focus by civil society on education. From national organizations such as Hispanic Scholarship Fund, USHLI, Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Hispanic College Fund, LNESC, Excelencia en Educación, Latinos in College, to the local grass roots organizations such as Latino Youth for Higher Education (LYHEP), Aspira, Let’s Get Ready, and Yonkers Partners in Education, they have provided support for different pieces of the puzzle to make college more accessible to first generation students.
  2. There’s been a relentless educational push by corporations such as McDonald’sCoca Cola, and Verizon among others, by the government trying to keep America competitive, and by the media (I.e.: Univision’s “Es el Momento,” Telemundo’s “El poder de saber”) that when combined with the ongoing efforts by civil society mentioned above are starting to produce results.
  3. A lot more students are checking the “Hispanic” box in their college applications because they want to have access to the additional funds available for people considered “minorities.”  Very often these applicants are children of mixed marriages, something that has become increasingly common in the last few decades. In 2010 the share of new marriages between spouses of a different race or ethnicity was 15.1  percent up from 3 percent in 1980.

There might not be just one reason for the phenomenal increase in Hispanic College Enrollment, but a mix of some of the factors outlined above with great population growth. I’d love to hear what other elements you think might be playing a role. The more we know what is working, the more we can all replicate the successful initiatives.

Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.

This article was originally published on Fox News Latino.