Research Education/Training Core

The Research Education/Training Core aims to increase the number of researchers and professionals from health disparity populations who are committed to eliminating HIV and substance abuse health disparities in Latino populations.

As such the objectives of the Research Education/Training Core are:

  • To develop a cadre of doctoral students (eight in total) at Florida International University (FIU) who will conduct behavioral research on the nature and extent of the HIV/AIDS and substance abuse epidemics among the Latino population in the United States;
  • To support the career development of four postdoctoral trainees at FIU conducting behavioral research on health disparities in HIV/AIDS and substance abuse; and
  • To provide training to four community leaders on the conduct of research in HIV/AIDS and substance abuse in Latino populations and to develop their general research skills.

C-SALUD recruits doctoral students enrolled primarily in the FIU Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, the College of Arts & Sciences (mainly the Department of Global & Sociocultural Studies and the Department of Psychology), the College of Nursing & Health Sciences, and the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. Applicants will need to meet specific criteria to be included in the Center training program. Due to the student composition at FIU, a majority of these students are likely to be from ethnically and racially diverse, medically under-served populations. Doctoral students selected to participate will be provided with quality training through a two year innovative mentorship and training program. As part of this program, students will benefit from individual guidance provided by faculty mentors. Students will also benefit from their involvement in community-based participatory research projects on health disparities related to HIV/AIDS and substance abuse among Latinas via the two research subprojects and the programs of the Community Partnership/Engagement Core (CPE).

Additionally, C-SALUD trains postdoctoral scholars who are interested in conducting health disparities research that focuses on HIV and substance abuse targeting Latino populations. Postdoctoral scholars primarily come from the social and behavioral sciences. Selected postdoctoral scholars are expected to be from racial/ethnic minority and medically under-served populations. These postdoctoral scholars are provided with quality training through a two-year innovative mentorship and training program to meet their unique developmental needs. Like their doctoral student counterparts, postdoctoral scholars will collaborate with faculty mentors and community mentors and contribute to, as well as develop, community-based health disparities research projects on HIV/AIDS and substance abuse.

Finally, community researchers and leaders from C-SALUD’s collaborating community based organizations will also receive access to the quality training activities provided to doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars. The following reasons reinforce the need for C-SALUD to provide continuing training to a cadre of doctoral students, postdoctoral scholars, and community leaders as researchers that focus on reducing substance abuse and HIV/AIDS health disparities among Latino populations:

  1. There continues to be a lack of substance abuse and HIV researchers who target Latino populations in South Florida and nationally;
  2. Since the proposed Center will be located in the largest four-year Hispanic/Latino Serving Institution in the continental U.S., it is uniquely positioned to educate racial/ethnic minority students, especially Latinos, on health disparities;
  3. The existing training programs C-SALUD have been quite successful in mobilizing NIH grant funding. We believe that the successes of our doctoral training program to date provide the best indication for the future success of our proposed postdoctoral training and mentorship program.

The success of the faculty and staff in obtaining NIH funding has allowed for an expansion of the Center’s mission and infrastructure and the provision of effective mentorship to our current cadre of doctoral students. Four R01 applications have been funded to C-SALUD staff and affiliated faculty in the areas of Social Work, Psychology, and Public Health, along with a National Science Foundation grant focusing on substance abuse and homicides among Latinos in Miami-Dade County, and two Administrative Supplements, including a competitive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) supplement project. Furthermore, our ARRA supplement grant and the two research subprojects of the ongoing P-20 have fostered strong linkages between C-SALUD and several community-based organizations.

Introduction

Latinos in the United States comprise 11% of the school aged and college aged (ages 5 to 24 years) population. This percentage is expected to increase to 28% by 2050 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008; Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institution Fact Sheet [HACU-HSI Fact Sheet], 2008). Due in part to Latinos’ patterns of geographic concentration in the U.S., a majority of this population is educated by Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) located in seven states and one territory: 84 HSIs in California, 53 in Puerto Rico, 43 in Texas, 24 in New Mexico, 14 in New York, and 11 in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois. These seven states and one territory house more than 80% of all Latino public high school and college students in the U.S. (HACU-HSI Fact Sheet, 2008).There are still wide educational disparities between Latino and non-Latino groups at all levels of education in the above mentioned states and territory and across the United States. Latino youth, for instance, are less likely to enroll in secondary and post-secondary institutions than their White and African American peers. They are also more likely to drop out of high school or college. Thus, Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), which educate nearly half of all Latino students, play a significant role in eliminating educational gaps between Latino and non-Latino youth at the post-secondary level.

As the largest four-year HSI in the continental U.S., FIU awards the highest number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees to Latinos among all the universities in the continental United States (Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine, 2010). However, FIU ranks 8th in awarding doctoral degrees to Latinos, indicating a need to attract more Latinos to its doctoral programs and enhance its existing Latino minority student initiatives. C-SALUD fills a significant gap in the doctoral programs within FIU by motivating Latino youth to pursue their doctoral studies and by providing them with quality research-education and training on health disparities. These contributions are significant since, as fellow stakeholders, racial/ethnic minority scientists are likely to have greater motivation and long-term interest in understanding health disparities and in developing culturally relevant prevention/treatment programs addressing HIV/AIDS and substance abuse.

Educational attainment gap between Latinos and other groups in the U.S.

There have been several positive developments with respect to the education of Latino populations during the last three decades, including increased enrollment in post-secondary institutions and increased high school completion rates (Pew Hispanic Center, 2009). However, large disparities in educational attainment remain between Latino and non-Latino students ranging from pre-school to high school and college. Access to preschool education contributes partially to this early gap; Latino children have the lowest access to preschool education of any major racial/ethnic group (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2009). Preschool is increasingly seen as the front door to the education system yet only 35% of Latino 4-year-olds attend preschool while 66% of White and 54% of African-American 4-year olds attend preschool (Malone & Ahmed- Ullah, 2010). These enrollment gaps could leave Latino children behind their peers even before the start of kindergarten. Latino youth also have the lowest high school completion rate in the U.S. In 2008, only 72.34% of all Latino youth (18- to 24-year-olds) completed a high school education (standard degree or GED equivalent), compared to 88.4% of African Americans and 93.21% of non-Latino Whites (NCES, 2009). Latinos also comprised the highest percentage of high school dropouts (18.3%), as compared to African Americans (9.9%) and non-Latino Whites 4.8% (NCES, 2009). High school completion and drop-out rates are particularly higher among immigrant Latinos. This segment of the Latino population is approximately seven times more likely to drop out of high school than their U.S. born Latino peers (NCES, 2009). The high school graduation gap between Latino youth and their White and African American peers is explained not only by student characteristics (e.g., family income, nativity, parents’ level of education, and ability to speak English), but also by the context of the learning environment, including attending public schools with large enrollments, high student-to-teacher ratios, and less rigorous curriculum (NCES, 2009). Not surprisingly, several studies indicate that context of learning is associated with lower student achievement and higher drop-out rates (NCES, 2007; NCES, 2009; Jay & Greg, 2003). Moreover, of those who graduate from high school, only 16% of Latinos leave ready to enter college, a much lower percentage than that of non-Latino White and African–American high school graduates (Jay & Greg 2003).

Educational disparities between Latino, non-Latino White, and African American youth in high school are important as they can affect one’s ability to gain admission to college and also affect what one can accomplish in college. As the Latino population has continually grown, Latinos have seen virtually no increase in college degree attainment, a rate that has fluctuated between 9% and 11% over the last 30 years (Gandara & Contreras, 2009). Although a large gap exists between the college completion rates of non-Latino Whites and African Americans, both groups show steady growth. However, the growth curve in college degree attainment for Latinos is nearly flat (Gandara, 2010). For instance, among students enrolled in a four year degree program in 2008, 37% of non-Latino Whites graduated with a bachelor’s degree compared to 21% of African-Americans and 12% of Latinos (American Community Survey, 2008). There are also wide disparities in four-year college enrollment patterns between Latinos and their White and African American peers. While full-time freshman enrollment for non-Latino Whites increased almost exclusively at four-year colleges, Latino enrollment increases took place in two-year community colleges (American Community Survey, 2008). Furthermore, about 64% of Latino college entrants do not receive postsecondary credentials (Associate or Bachelor’s degrees), as compared to 40% for non-Latino White entrants. Forty-seven percent of all White college entrants earn a bachelor’s degree by age 26, which is double the rate of Latino college entrants (Fry, 2004). Educational attainment in the U.S. continues to increase, but there are widening disparities between regions by race and ethnicity. In the southeastern region of the United States, which includes the state of Florida, only 13% of Hispanics hold a four year college degree compared to 18% of African Americans, 31% of non-Latino Whites, and 50% of Asian/Pacific Islanders (Berube, 2010). There are several reasons why Latinos do not go or fail to finish college. One reason is the quality of high school education Latinos receive. The cost of tuition and a financial need to work are also important factors. More than 80% of Latinos stated that the need to work and lack of funds to go to college are key factors influencing why they do not go to college or fail to finish college (NCES, 2009). Regardless of which academic achievement estimate is most accurate, all indicate that Latino students are significantly behind most of their peers. This is the pattern with other achievement measures as well: grade point average, scholastic aptitude test scores, and preschool/college enrollment and graduation rates. Gandara and Contreras (2009) note, Latino students show “a consistent pattern of underachievement.”

This disparity in performance has grown over time. Moreover, educational disparities in postsecondary education contribute to underrepresentation of Latinos among researchers and academic faculty. In 2007, Latinos comprised only 3.6% of the faculty in degree granting colleges and universities while African Americans and non-Latino Whites comprised 5.4% and 76.8%, respectively. Among full professors, Latinos comprised 2.4% while African Americans and non-Latino Whites respectively comprised 3.4% and 85.3% (NCES [Digest of Education Statistics. NCES 2010-013 April 2010], 2009). Available at: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d09/tables_1.asp/. Accessed 1/24/2011).

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