CHICAGO – Founded 32 years ago, Chicago's bilingual St. Augustine College is a bridge for Latinos who wish to proceed to higher education in the United States.
"This is one of the few places in the country where Hispanic immigrants can study the so-called general education requirements in their own language while learning English, then transfer to another university to get their degree," college President Andrew Sund told Efe.
The student body has grown 40 percent in the last four years and there are currently 1,700 students, with 50 percent of them of Mexican origin and the rest from Colombia and Central American and Caribbean countries like Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
"Everyone at this school has been around looking for a way to get ahead," said Sund, who was born in Venezuela of a Mexican mother and an American father.
Women make up 75 percent of St. Augustine's student body, which has a median age of 29.
They are adult students who already have jobs and families but need training to face the labor market's new challenges.
"We have to get enthusiastic about working and studying. We're Latinos and we have to raise ourselves up as Latinos, because a lot of us don't want to study," said student Francis Bravo Reyes.
She's a young working mother by day and takes classes at night.
Sund said that to make studying easier for those who are working, classes are offered in units of three hours a week, alternating between morning and evening.
After two years, students can obtain an associate's degree in business administration, liberal arts and sciences. The only bachelor's degree offered is in social work.
Sund stresses the importance of education for immigrants in a society where the jobs no longer exist that were here 50 years ago, when it was possible to enter the U.S. without speaking English or having an education "and still be able to get work and have a good life," he said.
"Those jobs are gone, they're in other countries. Factories are closed and now you need to go on studying after high school to be eligible for jobs of the 21st century," he said.