Many would argue that higher education is the economic issue of our time. Unemployment rates of those who have not earned a college degree are double of those who have earned a degree. The White House has set an ambitious goal of producing a higher share of college graduates than any other nation by 2020, hoping to return to a first place ranking after dropping into 12th place.


Higher education is essential for every demographic group working to achieve the American Dream, but how do we embed a value structure that prioritizes higher education into our diverse society?


Today, tools exist to expand opportunities to pursue higher education. State and Federal funding for grants and loans has improved affordability and access for students of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Degree programs are increasingly diverse to meet the needs of today’s student. Education institutions are increasingly providing flexible learning options through the expansion of online programs that meet the needs of non-traditional students, who now comprise seventy percent of the overall college population.


Despite the increase in accessibility, there are still large segments of the population that feel success in the American higher education system is beyond their reach. Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the American population,å and are increasingly critical to bolstering our country’s international economic competiveness. For America to achieve the goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020, we must meet a national goal of graduating 5.5 million Latinos by 2020. Education institutions, such as Apollo Education Group and its subsidiary University of Phoenix, were founded to meet the needs of the non-traditional student; working adults, those with children and those who are not financially supported while attending college. While online options and program flexibility have been integral in opening the doors of higher education to many working, adult Americans, we quickly recognized more must be done to integrate the myriad of diverse ethnicities across our country, including Latinos.


For the Latino student, a decision to pursue higher education is often not just a family decision, but often also a community decision. Therefore, University of Phoenix provides bilingual and bicultural staff in particular locations that can engage families and the community in meaningful conversations in the areas of financial aid, academic advising and enrollment. Beyond tackling the perceived barriers to admission, University of Phoenix also provides guidance and resources that ensure Latino students can be successful within a degree program, as well as after graduation being able to translate their education to a meaningful career.


Apollo Education Group has taken many proactive steps to engage with the national Hispanic community, including ongoing work with the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI), the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF), and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI). These are organizations that already provide valuable services to Hispanic students in the areas of civic engagement, educational attainment, and reward excellence in academic achievement. University of Phoenix has provided support for their annual conferences, regional symposia, full-tuition scholarships, and opportunities for professional development.


In terms of Professional Associations, the University has a robust partnership with ALPFA – the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance & Accounting. There are three main areas of engagement: Support of the Annual National Conference and Annual Leadership Conference; Five full-tuition MBA scholarships; and Professional Development. University of Phoenix developed a series of workshops specifically for the Women of ALPFA initiative. In 2014, the University will focus on duplicating the model of the ALPFA partnership with Hispanic organizations in the areas of nursing, criminal justice, and technology.


Within the last two years, University of Phoenix has introduced an important element to students and alumni by implementing a suite of career guidance tools and partnering with America’s top employers to provide access to job search tools, industry analytics and job postings. Students need to understand what industries are growing, what skills are in demand and what positions are utilizing particular skills in order to make the most informed decisions about a degree program.


The Phoenix Career Guidance System™ directly addresses the importance of ensuring a higher education program connects to a career, by providing a user-friendly opportunity to navigate trends in a local job market and within a particular industry to build an individualized view of careers that may best suit them. This is a useful tool for students to make informed career decisions and will help students of all backgrounds get to work.


For University of Phoenix and Apollo Education Group, embedding the value of higher education into our society means ensuring curriculum is relevant, resources for career planning are utilized when making degree program choices, and college is affordable for students of all backgrounds. The Latino community has a tremendous opportunity to help lead our country back to being an international education and economic leader through strong college attendance, and strong representation in the U.S. workforce.


Luis Tavel serves as the National Director of Latino Affairs for the Apollo Education Group, helping establish meaningful partnerships with national Hispanic Community Organizations, Corporations, and Professional Networking Associations.