White House representatives were visiting New York on Friday as part of an initiative to improve education for Hispanic students, who make up close to 22 percent of the nation's public school population.

"We're in crisis in the Latino community in terms of education," Jose Rico, deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, told Efe.

Rico accompanied the executive director of the program, Juan Sepulveda, on a visit to four New York schools.

Recent studies indicate that even though Latino students have boosted their academic achievements over the last 10 years, they are still the farthest behind compared with other ethnic groups.

Only half of Latinos who start high school graduate on schedule and of those, only about half are prepared for college.

According to Rico, one of the reasons Latinos fall behind academically is the fact that they usually go to the poorest schools with the fewest resources.

He also said that young people don't have leaders, people that push them to continue their studies and help them understand the university system and the scholarships available, and who give them the support they need to meet their academic challenges.

"We know that only about 13 percent of Latino adults have a college or university diploma. It's the biggest minority but young people don't have anyone to guide them into the university system and give them the emotional and social support they need," Rico said.

The lack of leaders in their communities to motivate them is the reason many to drop out of school and look for a job.

"That's because they don't have people around to explain the benefits of going to a university. Whoever has less than two years of university in this country can't look forward to a better life," he said.

Rico and Sepulveda are visiting New York on a tour that has taken them to 35 states and Puerto Rico to evaluate several initiatives aimed at improving education for Latinos and increasing the percentage who finish high school and go on to college.

In New York they will evaluate a program that Columbia University Teachers College has launched in four schools that consists of training principals and teachers to work with parents and other members of the community to motivate students to continue their university studies.

"These pilot programs are very important," Rico said, and regretted that they only exist in certain communities.

He added that "part of our work as a community and government is to get students to finish high school and enroll in university."

"If that doesn't happen, our community will go on being poor, it won't prosper and the country will suffer because we know that the future of our country is linked to the Latino community," he said.