Hispanic/Latino student

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Hispanic/Latino Students Lead in High School, But Fall Behind in College. Why?

This story is part of the “90 for All” series, which examines the challenges facing traditionally underserved students, particularly low-income and homeless students, English learners, students of color, and students with disabilities.

Two studies have been circulating the news lately that, at first glance, seem to directly contradict each other.

In one, a Pew study declares that the high school dropout rate among Hispanic/Latino students* has reached a new low and that college enrollment rates for this group are up.

Civic Enterprises CEO John Bridgeland, co-author of the annual Building a Grad Nation report, gives three likely reasons for the lower dropout rates in an Education Week story on the study: schools make progress when they create an “every student counts” culture; help students envision college and careers early; and focus on social and emotional support.

Hispanic Dropout RateIn that same story, Governor Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, says federal law and rules that require schools to report graduation rates by student subgroup have also contributed to the progress.

While this sounds like great news, Pew does point out that Hispanic/Latino students are less likely than Black or White students to get a four-year degree.

As Education Week also reported, “Only two in 10 Latinos earn bachelor's degrees, compared to nearly 1 in 3 Blacks and 45 percent of Whites.”

So Hispanic/Latino students are doing better when it comes to high school, but not college.

What gives?

That’s where the second study comes in. The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University analyzes the issue in their new report, Latino Education and Economic Progress: Running Faster but Still Behind.

Their research shows that much of the problem boils down to what kind of colleges Hispanic/Latino students are choosing and when they’re enrolling.

Many Latino students delay college enrollment, which Dr. Megan L. Fasules, assistant research professor, research economist, and one of the report’s authors, said might happen because they are trying to save money. But she added that this reason needs more investigation.

The other issue, the report says, is that most Latino students—65 percent—are enrolling in open-access colleges that are overcrowded and underfunded, particularly community colleges with low graduation rates. Only 36 percent of Latinos who attend open-access colleges graduate, compared to 68 percent of Latinos who attend “selective colleges,” those that admit students who score in the top 35 percent of college-entry exams.

Attending one of the nation’s top 500 selective colleges is associated with an 80 percent chance of graduating, and Hispanic/Latino students are more than qualified to enroll. The report notes that 125,000 Latino students receive test scores that rank in the top half of the country’s high school students ever year. But less than a quarter of them attend one these schools

So how can colleges help more Latino students enroll in selective colleges? Fasules said financial aid is a major factor.

“Universities need to make the financial aid process more transparent,” she said. “Many Latinos do not even apply to selective colleges because they fear they cannot afford it. They are unaware they are unlikely to pay the sticker price.” 

*Though the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are different—learn more here—it is common research practice to use the two interchangeably. The Pew study uses Hispanic in writing, but a representative confirmed they use the term interchangeably with Latino. The opposite was true for the Georgetown study, which used “Latino” but clarified in the report that the term encompassed “Hispanic.”

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The GradNation State Activation initiative is a collaboration between America’s Promise Alliance and Pearson to increase high school graduation rates by encouraging statewide innovation and collaboration, sharing that knowledge and replicating what works, and developing successful models all states can replicate.

Check out the latest research report from the initiative, I Came Here to Learn: The Achievements and Experiences of Massachusetts Students Whose First Language is Not English.

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