By Edwin Flores, NBC News
Noemi Rodriguez, 21, aspires to make an impact in her community through her work after college. But as she maneuvers through her final year at University of California, San Diego, balancing school, work and commuting has been an ongoing challenge.
“My mom had told me from the beginning, ‘If you want to go to school, it’s going to be on your own account,'” said Rodriguez, who’s worked part time at Jamba Juice while going to school full time and taking on a second job in the summer to help pay for tuition and cover some of the family’s bills.
Latinos are more likely to be first-generation college students than any other racial or ethnic group: More than 4 in 10 (44 percent) Hispanic students are the first in their family to attend college, according to educational nonprofit organization Excelencia in Education.
Monday was the annual National First-Generation College Celebration, marking the anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which greatly expanded college opportunities through financial assistance tools such as grants and work-study programs.
While the celebration is one day, many higher education institutions carry out weeklong and even monthlong celebrations.
In California, Hispanics make up 43 percent of public college undergraduates, according to a report by The Campaign for College Opportunity. The organization, composed of a coalition of groups, aims to boost opportunities for the state’s Latinos to attend and graduate from college.
Latino college enrollment and degree obtainment are continuing to rise, and there have been encouraging trends in California, which has the country’s largest Latino population, making up almost 4 in 10 (39 percent) Californians. A little over half (51 percent) of the state’s Latinos are under 30.
The report noted that almost 9 in 10 (87 percent) of Latino 19-year-olds have a high school diploma or equivalent credential, compared to 73 percent 10 years ago. In the last five years, four-year graduation rates doubled for Hispanics enrolled as full-time, first-year students in the California State University system — from 9 percent to 18 percent for Latinos and from 15 percent to 29 percent for Latinas.
However, only 18 percent of Latino and 29 percent of Latina freshmen at the California State University system are graduating in four years.
Rodriguez is a success coach for the UCSD Student Success Coaching Program, which supports incoming and continuing first-generation students like her through mentoring, helping them balance school and work and giving them access to resources and support services. After graduation, she plans to continue mentoring students, drawing on her own experiences.
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