Deborah Ferguson, NBC 5 News
Programs to get Hispanic women into college are making a difference but males are vanishing from campuses. Will Latinos emerge as laborers or leaders?
Paco Hernandez was on his way towards becoming another sad statistic. He used to skip school to hang out with friends.
Then a girl led Paco down another path. It was a class focused on getting Fort Worth ISD students into college.. something that wasn't in Hernandez's future until his junior year at Arlington Heights High School.
"That's when I thought I gotta get my life together," Hernandez said.
According to the Intercultural Development Research Association, 37 percent of Latinos in Texas will drop out of high school. The majority will be males.
Dr. Robert Munoz at Tarrant County College is working with a professor at the University of Texas at Austin to learn why fewer Hispanic males enroll in college.
"One of the key factors is we do have a high dropout rate for the males and that's a huge impact," Dr. Munoz said. "There's still some discussion among the males that there's pressure form them to go to work [instead of to college]."
Numerous groups like the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce award college scholarships every year. Mostly girls apply. Latinas understand education matters. But getting some parents to buy into the dream can be hard.
"I can understand why," said student Dayna Martin. "They didn't go to college. They didn't finish high school."
College was Martin's goal way back in elementary school. She reached out for help at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas. Ashley Dancer was there. She is with "Advise Texas," a state-funded program in the Dallas ISD to get low-income and first generation students to college.
"There's just a lack of information int he community and we're here to answer any questions they may have," Dancer said.
The help led Martin to Bill Gates' Foundation. The Foundation's scholarship program awarded Martin a full ride through graduation. She plans to attend the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
Latinos will soon be the largest population group and leaders say success in the classroom is critical for all Texans.
"In order to be economically positioned for the global market, the kids have to focus on the career pathways to get them there," said Michelle Bobadilla, University of Texas at Arlington. "They gotta focus on what it takes to get them out of high school, then the transition and beyond."
Rosa Navajar of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce boiled it down to one message. "I always tell our community: we have two L's in our future: leaders and laborers."
Paco Hernandez is now working on a future of leadership. He has school and two jobs now. He plans to graduate with a degree in Business from Texas State in a few years.
"I want a restaurant," Hernandez said. "I want to get into culinary arts, for sure. And I want to be the chef there, the manager... move to Florida, have my house there. My family. That's my dream."
Business is in his blood. He's the "Paco" in Fort Worth's "Paco And John Mexican Diner." His parents love, encourage and support him. Paco knows how to pay them back.. getting the family's first college degree and living a life that makes them proud.