As Latino Community Increases, College Education Numbers Decrease

It's no secret that Latino students are struggling academically to compete with their counterparts. According to the group Excelencia in Education, 21% of Hispanics in America hold an associate's degree or higher. This number is significantly less than males in other groups, such as African Americans (30%) and Whites (44%).

This trend holds across age groups as well, demonstrating the cross-generational nature of the challenge. 8% of Latinos who are 18-24 years of age have earned some form of advanced degree, compared with 14% of all young adults. For adults over the age of 25, Whites earn advanced degrees at twice the rate of Hispanics, and Asians are nearly three times as likely to hold a degrees.

Several reports indicate unique difficulties for Latinos that come into play when completing a degree. They particularly struggle with their socioeconomic status. Not only is there a lack of financial resources for Latino students, but the need for all family members to work in order to support their families tends to hinder their opportunities for continuing education. Data shows, in reports such as the College Board's report on the educational experience of men of color, that Latina women have consistently higher graduation rates than their male counterparts. In large part, this reverts back to the unique culture of the Latino community and their commitment to family, in which Latino males are more willing and face greater expectations that they will sacrifice school and other personal ambition in order to assist their families.

Parents of would-be college students have a strong impact on their children's attendance and graduation rate. Only 54% of students whose parents never went to college enrolled in college after high school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. If the parents hadn't finished high school, only 36% of students enrolled. It is clear that the educational attainment of previous generations of Hispanics play a large role in their children's lower college graduation rates.

Low rates of Latino students attending college, and finishing college, is one of the greatest challenges facing this community. But the problem starts earlier, with the low quality of high school education that Hispanics often receive. Studies show that Latinos who attend schools with a larger number of minority students, in poorer neighborhoods, tend to receive a lower level quality of education, which in turn factors in to college dropout rates.

In fact, the report "Rising to the Challenge," prepared by the American Enterprise Institute, claims that a student of any race enrolled in a "competitive" college is seven times more likely to receive their bachelor's degree than a student in a less competitive school.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that these dynamics have economy-wide implications. As American jobs increasingly require a college education, low Latino graduation rates will have a major impact on the country's economic competitiveness. Thus increasing the number of the Latinos with college degrees is not only a matter of social justice and equality, but also one closely tied to our economic future. We simply cannot afford to continue letting such a critical population languish without the skills to work and compete in the 21st century.

According to a 2010 report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018, 63% of new jobs in the next decade will require workers to have at least some college education. It will be essential to integrate Latinos into this new workforce, by addressing the unique needs of the community and making education more accessible and affordable.

It is common knowledge by now that the Latino community is the fastest growing minority group in our nation. As the growth of this community accelerates, we must improve our education system to keep up - or else risk falling behind as a nation.