Health Disparities Research
Grants and Projects
Dr. Zell's Health Disparities Research (Continued)
Background and Significance
Both American Indians and Hispanics/Latinos/Latinas remain under represented in higher education. There are many factors affecting this grim reality, including poverty. A recent report indicated that the college participation rate has widened for high school graduates ages 18-24 who are white, Hispanic, and African American, but not for American Indians (Harvey, 2003). The college participation rate for all three races, in 1978-80, was about 30 percent, with little variations among the three groups (white, Hispanic, and African American). However, from 1978-80 to 1998-2000, the college participation rate increased by 14 percentage points for whites, 11 percentage points for African Americans, and 5 percentage points for Hispanics. According to Harvey (2003), the most dramatic college participation rate difference was for Hispanic women. In 1978-1980, the college participation rate for Hispanic men was 31.5% and for Hispanic women, it was 27%. Two decades later, the college participation rate for Hispanic men remained the same (31%), but for Hispanic women, the rate rose to 37%, which is a 10 percentage-point gain. Caution must be taken because given the total size of the U.S. Hispanic population and the population growth among this group, the reported college participation rate is still low compared to other populations attending college. For Governors State University, the number of Hispanics enrolled college-wide is very low, although it is increasing. In both the BSW and MSW programs, the Hispanic participation rate is almost non-existent, yet community-wide there is a growing Hispanic population, and we need both BSW and MSW Hispanic social workers to meet the growing demands for service. There is one Hispanic entering the MSW program, as an advanced standing student, in Fall 2004, that we know of to date; she was one of two BSW students that graduated from the BSW program in 2002. In the BSW program, there are two Hispanic students entering in Fall 2004.
For American Indians, the 2000 U.S. population was 2.4 million, and the population is projected to grow to 3.1 million by 2020 and 4.4 million by 2050. Between 1990 and 1997, American Indians saw a 12% growth in population compared with 3% for whites and Hispanics. The American Indian population is very young–66% of the 1,080,000 American Indians in 1990 under the age of 20 were high school graduates. This is an improvement given that in many areas, the high school drop-out rate hovers at 80%. Even though more American Indians are completing high school in recent years, they are not completing bachelor’s degrees at the same rate that their numbers are growing. In 1980, 8% of American Indians completed bachelors degrees; this increased to 9% in 1990, but this is still lower than the 20% bachelor level completion rate for the total population. When looking at advanced degrees, American Indians are insignificantly represented, and this is true for Governors State University college-wide, as well. Presently, there are also no American Indians in either the MSW or BSW degree programs at Governors State University.
Drs. Zell and and Sanders decided to do a collaborative study to explore the barriers to higher education for American Indians and Hispanics/Latinos/Latinas. They need this information in order to increase the number of BSW and MSW students from these population groups. Many American Indians and Hispanics/Latinos/Latinas are working in local community-based agencies, and they could be recruited into our BSW and MSW programs. They are performing community work already. With more specialized degrees they could become more effective practitioners and successful researchers. The type of research they would be performing would be praxis, melding theory and practice.
Since Drs. Zell and Sanders are interested in healing the communities where American Indians and Hispanics/Latinos/Latinas live and work, they have selected a community empowerment model as their theoretical framework. Empowerment theory is useful when working with disenfranchised populations; it relies heavily upon social justice and affecting social justice. Through increasing the number of BSW and MSW degrees held by American Indians and Hispanics/Latinos/Latinas, they would be increasing community empowerment. Disenfranchised persons who complete a bachelor's or master's degree empower themselves by increasing their power to affect change in the local community and by improving their financial base.
This study, then, is an exploratory study to determine the barriers to higher education for American Indians and Hispanics/Latinos/Latinas. From the research findings, Dr. Zell and Sanders hope to bridge the gap between high school and college. Once they have students in Governors State University's BSW and MSW programs, they can mentor them, so that they will be successful in completing their degrees.
Dr. Zell is from Brazil and has worked with the Hispanic/Latino/Latina populations in both Brazil and Chicago. She has recently presented at a conference in Brazil. Dr. Zell’s dissertation, entitled "Child Welfare Caseworkers: Who The Are and How They View the System," was a secondary analysis of data collected in a three-year study of case planning for children entering state custody in New York and Chicago. She has also conducted extensive clinical reviews of complex, high profile cases.