Creating Opportunities for Latino Students From the Federal Level
By: Erica Romero, VP, Education Policy and Advocacy
I have spent the past two decades of my career building policies that make higher education access and success attainable for more Latinos. This work is extremely personal to me, but also a way for me to shape the future of the Latino community.
Growing up in East Oakland, California it became pretty evident to me the many ways our education systems can easily dismiss Latino students from higher education. After college, I had the opportunity to ask a group of young Latinas from Santa Ana, California where they planned on going to college. They responded that they were told by a counselor not to bother because they would end up pregnant or dropping out anyway. There sadly continues to be systemic barriers to young Latinas and Latinos who want to go to college but are not given the same opportunity as their peers. After this encounter, I began working on legislation that would have notified parents about access to financial aid, as well as the A-G curriculum (required to enter a California public four-year university) starting in the sixth grade, in the parents’ language of choice.
Even in my own life, I saw how the idea of college can be elusive to Latino families. When I got accepted into the Harvard Kennedy School for my graduate degree, you can imagine how excited I was and I thought I would be met with the same level of joy and excitement by my father, but I wasn’t. He was definitely proud and happy for me, but it didn’t immediately click how prestigious and competitive the school was, or how groundbreaking it was for a Latina to step into a predominantly white space.
Both of these scenarios crystalized for me that I wanted to devote my professional career to creating policies that better serve Latino students.
I have been fortunate to work on legislation that impacts financial aid, access to higher education for undocumented students, and opportunities for more equal access to college going curriculum, among other policies while in the California legislature. I’ve been a part of the team that has facilitated a series of listening tours across the country for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans where Latino families and educators shared the barriers facing their families and communities. And for the last decade I have been advocating for resources and the growth of Hispanic Serving Institutions across the country.
As I step into my new role of Vice President, Education Policy and Advocacy at Latinos for Education, I am excited to build on my work in higher education but really think about how we create opportunities for Latino students from early childhood and through the pipeline until they graduate from higher education and enter the workforce.
I will be taking the Latino Action Agenda that the organization developed with input from so many transformative Latino leaders and finding ways to infuse that into federal policies. And at the same time, I am excited to ensure there is a Latino perspective in all federal education policy, afterall, Latinos are the fastest growing student population in our public schools so failing to include the Latino perspective is no longer acceptable.
I am also aware that our work will not finish simply by passing policies, but rather when we close the opportunity gaps that so many Latino students continue to encounter on their educational journey. I am excited about this task, and I am equally excited to reconnect with old friends and previous colleagues in Washington, DC.
Erica Romero serves as Vice President of Education Policy and Advocacy at Latinos for Education in Washington, DC. She is responsible for providing thought leadership, policy analysis, policy development, and cultivating key partner relations with decision makers and influencers in the federal education space.
She previously served as Assistant Vice President of State Advocacy at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, as well as Vice President of External Relations at the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. She is a graduate of both UC Berkeley and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.