Fidel Vargas Corrects the Narrative

A record number of young Latinos are preparing for higher education, but they need support, says Fidel Vargas of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund

Latino students are driving the growth of college admissions across the US, and Latino leaders and employee resource group (ERG) members can help keep this momentum going. That was the main message from Fidel Vargas, the president and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) and keynote speaker at the latest installment of the Latino ERG Digital Summit on Thursday, December 3. The summit was cohosted by Hispanic Executive and the Consortium of Latino Employee Organizations (CLEO), and Guerrero Media President and CEO Pedro Guerrero hosted the event.

Pedro Guerrero and Fidel Vargas
Pedro Guerrero (left) and Fidel Vargas (right) at the Latino ERG Digital Summit. Courtesy of Guerrero Media

Vargas offered his perspective on the issues facing the Latino community’s youngest scholars and how Latino-focused ERGs can help. Here were some of his key insights:

Skewed Perceptions

According to Vargas, there have never been so many Latino students deciding to pursue higher education, which makes his organization’s work more important than ever.

So, just how prevalent are Latino students?

“For example, if I said, what is the ratio of Asian American to Latinos in college in the US today? If I asked that question and we did a poll, my experience is that the majority of [people] would say, ‘Three to one,’” Vargas said. “They would say there are three Asian Americans to every one Latino. That’s the typical answer. And in fact, it’s actually almost the opposite. There are two-and-a-half times more Latinos than Asian Americans in college in the US today. And that hints at something broader, which is the narrative that people have, including Latinos and Latinas, of who we are as a community.

Latino Students Are Optimistic

While COVID-19 has had a major impact on students of all backgrounds and ages, it has not dashed the hopes of the students HSF works with, Vargas noted.

“We’re seeing a persistence and perseverance and determination amongst our scholars that’s inspiring,” Vargas said. “The trends that we’re seeing, especially for the scholars that we serve, in some ways counter what you would imagine is happening. Certainly, there’s challenges. But the optimism that our scholars are showing in terms of how they see their future, regardless of what’s happening with COVID, is stunning and inspiring.”

Encouragement Is Key to Overcoming Obstacles

What drives outcomes more than anything is how Latinos, and young Latinos especially, perceive themselves, Vargas said. When asked what percentage of Latinos under the age of eighteen are US citizens, most would guess 50 percent or 60 percent.

The answer? Ninety-three percent.

Combating this view with facts, as well as encouragement and inspiration, is key in helping young Latinos move forward with their education, Vargas emphasized.

“As we’re working with high school students and college students, what they’re calling on us to do is to show them a way, to show them encouragement, to give them inspiration, to coach them on how to be leaders, and to coach them on how to be successful,” he said. “I think that’s how all of us can make a difference in our own ways, in our own communities, and in our own companies, by focusing on how to spotlight facts versus myths about our community.”

How Can ERGs Help?

Latinos who are part of ERGs at Fortune 1000 companies have the ability to drive change both within their organizations and in their communities and should encourage their companies “to put their money where their mouth is,” Vargas said.

“It’s not enough to just say, ‘We have an ERG,’” Vargas said. “What are you doing as a company? Not what are your employees doing for you as a company: what are you investing off your balance sheet to the ERG and other organizations in the Latino community to make a difference? Because ultimately, that’s the measure that’s going to be able to move things forward, not just for HSF but for every other important organization in the Latino community. And there are hundreds of them, local, regional, and national. It’s really easy to spot when we have a partner that’s truly committed and when they’re not.”

Bottom line: Young Latinos are on the verge of taking the world of higher education by storm. Countering false perceptions with facts and providing encouragement and inspiration are key to helping them succeed. Hispanic ERGs can help by encouraging their companies to support them, as well as Latino organizations in the communities they serve.


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