Jasniya Sanchez came to the United States from Mexico City in 1999, when she was 11 years old. Her mother, a cashier at a fruit store, and her father, who works at a supermarket stocking shelves, always told her that if she studied hard, a world of opportunities would open up.
Sanchez listened to her parents. She graduated from Baruch College with a B.A. in economics and is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Administration with a specialty in nonprofit administration at Baruch.
But too many Mexican students, who like Sanchez come to the U.S. with their parents when they are children, as well as second-generation Mexican-Americans, are not graduating from college or even high school.
According to census data, about 41 percent of all Mexicans ages 16 to 19 living in New York City are neither in school nor have graduated. The statistics show that no other major immigrant group has a dropout rate above 20 percent.
“I know a lot of [Mexican] people who have dropped out of high school for a variety of reasons,” says Sanchez, 25. “The top three reasons I’ve heard of are misinformation, money and illegal immigration status.”
CUNY has been working to help address this educational crisis among Mexicans, the third-largest immigration population in the city after Dominicans and the Chinese. In May, a new CUNY Institute for Mexican Studies opened its doors at Lehman College, with its primary goals to promote enrollment and increase retention and graduation rates of Mexican and Mexican-American students, and to foster the study of Mexico and Mexicans in the U.S. in CUNY. The Institute will also strive to educate the Mexican community — officially numbering 319,126, according to 2010 U.S. Census data, up from about 33,600 in 1990 — about educational resources available to them.
“CUNY has played a role as an engine of upward mobility for immigrant families and the Institute is another example of this work by CUNY,” says Alyshia Gálvez, acting director of the Institute and associate professor of Latin American and Puerto Rican Studies at Lehman. “CUNY saw a need for this and sought to address it with this most recently arrived group.”
Many young, undocumented immigrants in New York City drop out of school because they mistakenly believe that they are not eligible to attend college. In fact, illegal immigrants who graduate from a high school in the city or get a GED diploma qualify for in-state tuition. And President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative went into effect in August, protecting Mexican students from deportation for two years and granting them work authorization.
The Institute is just the latest effort by CUNY to recruit and graduate more Mexican students. In Spring 2005, Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations and Secretary of the Board of Trustees Jay Hershenson and then-Consul General of Mexico in New York Arturo Sarukhan formed a CUNY Task Force to explore outreach strategies for the Mexican and Mexican American community. One of the outcomes of the Task Force was the development of a memorandum of understanding between CUNY and the Consulate General in New York. On September 21, 2005, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein signed the memorandum of understanding with then-Consul General Sarukhan, now Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S.
In 2007, the Chancellor formed the Working Task Force on Strengthening Educational Opportunities for Mexican and Mexican-Americans and appointed Senior Vice Chancellor Hershenson as Chair. The Task Force’s mission is to devise and deliver educational, leadership and outreach services to that community.
Since then CUNY, the Mexican consulate in New York, and several advocacy groups have introduced after-school tutoring, college-readiness and scholarship programs as well as admission and financial-aid counseling and college fairs targeting the Mexican community.
In 2010, with funding from the Mexican Ministry of Public Education, the New York City College of Technology launched a one-semester, intensive certificate program that prepares students of Mexican heritage for careers in the hospitality industry. With assistance from the Mexican consulate, CUNY has funded the only training program for Mexican community leaders through the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College. CUNY’s efforts to decrease the dropout rate and broaden educational opportunities for Mexican immigrants culminated in the opening of the Institute, the first center of Mexican studies on the East Coast.
“Here in the city there are at least 350,000 individuals of Mexican descent; their talents and ambitions are essential to the success of the city and state,” says Hershenson. “The Institute will combine a commitment to scholarship and research with a very strong community service … it will involve outreach to the business community, the labor community, the various constituencies that care about the future the Mexican community here in New York.”
The Institute will promote study-abroad programs to Mexico, establish a Carlos Fuentes Visiting Professorship, seek collaborations with an array of institutions, promote the creation of courses, majors, minors and programs of study in campuses across the CUNY system (Lehman offers a minor in Mexican and Mexican-American Studies) and work to create scholarship endowment. It will also serve as the epicenter for community-based organizations like Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders, Mixteca Organization and others.