Educational organizations from all over the country on Thursday asked Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and education leaders for new policies to help Hispanics make holding a job compatible with going to college with the aim of reducing their tendency to halt their studies once they finish high school.

At a round table at the Labor Department, a dozen university and education program leaders on Thursday debated with government education officials and lawmakers how to get more Hispanics to earn a university degree.

"We need to emphasize that the important thing for many Latinos is to be able to learn without having to leave their job. That's going to be one of the keys to the success of Hispanics in the future, and we're not seeing sufficient examples," said the president of the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, Jeannine LaPrad.

Secretary Solis said that one of her priorities in the Labor Department is "investment in programs to facilitate, as much as possible, the continuation of their studies by young workers," something that in the case of Hispanics is "key," given their growing presence in the U.S. demographic makeup.

"We have before us a great obstacle: that of convincing the United States that the future of the Hispanic youth is the country's future," said the head of the Hispanic Caucus in Congress, Charlie Gonzalez.

The Democratic lawmaker from Texas said it was necessary "to identify the careers that are relevant for our country" and orient students toward those careers.

Just 3.4 percent of the jobs in engineering and science are held at present by Latinos, said Gonzalez, who added he thought it was "vital" to encourage more young people to believe that they, too, can aspire to these positions.

"We must challenge the traditional notions and keep in mind how learning and communication are today in the real world," he added.

Echoing those sentiments was the director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, Juan Sepulveda, who lamented the fact that in 2000 the United States was "number one" in the world in educational achievements but since then it has fallen to ninth place.