Reaching the Future

A growing percentage of students identify as Latinx, and some slip through the cracks. A new research center looks to prevent that.

What would it mean if a growing slice of California’s students never earn a bachelor’s degree—to the economy? And the very idea of opportunity that the Golden State sometimes represents?

It’s a very real concern.

Consider: More than 50 percent of California’s K–12 students identify as Latinx, according to the American Community Survey. Further consider: While high school graduation numbers for this group have improved, the rate lags behind others, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Those are numbers associate professor Oscar Jiménez-Castellanos wants to change for the students, and for the future.

To that end, he co-founded the Latinx Education Research Center on campus to battle the disenfranchisement of Latinx students through research and to create new approaches for serving this growing group of scholars. It’s an effort that puts SCU at the forefront of fighting the representation gap—the center is the first of its kind.

“We’re taking the lead in educational research like this,” says Jiménez-Castellanos. “What I’ve said is that we’re a startup center. There’s no better place than the Silicon Valley for a startup.”

While the center has national significance, potentially improving educational outcomes everywhere, it is also integral to the soul of Santa Clara.

“As a Catholic institution, it has a certain mission and set of values that is consistent with the kind of open inquiry into this issue,” says Sabrina Zirkel, the dean of the School of Education and Counseling Psychology, which is the center’s home base.

“The Latinx population is the largest growing population in the U.S. We are very conscious of it because in California public schools, over half the students have some kind of Latinx background,” she says. “It is our state—this is the population of our state.”

Santa Clara University itself has a long Latinx history, with varying degrees of successful representation. Most of the first graduating class either spoke Spanish or had Spanish surnames. That percentage dropped over time. The class of ’22, however, is 18 percent Latinx, closer to the state’s demographics but not quite reflecting them—yet.


post-image Oscar Jiménez-Castellanos speaks at a lecture on Latinx education. / Photo by Shengchun Li
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