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'Roadmap' for Latino College Success

March 10, 2011

Between 2005 and 2022, the number of Hispanic public high school graduates in the United States is projected to increase by 88 percent, while the number of white high school graduates is expected to decline by 15 percent. And in 2008, only 19 percent of Hispanics ages 25 years and up had earned a postsecondary degree, compared with 29 percent of black young adults and 39 percent of white ones, according to a new report to be issued today by Excelencia in Education.

That convergence of projected Latino population growth and lagging degree attainment rates, combined with President Obama’s goals for America to lead the world in higher education attainment rates, prompted Excelencia in Education’s report, “Roadmap for Ensuring America's Future,” which lays out an extensive plan to increase Latino degree attainment. Latino Americans will have to earn 5.5 million degrees to close race and ethnic equity gaps and meet the Obama administration’s degree attainment goals for 2020, according to the report, which Excelencia in Education produced in conjunction with 60 other institutions. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education, and the Kresge Foundation provided financial support.

“America cannot become the world leader in college degrees, nor will it have a globally competitive workforce in the future, if it does not focus on improving Latino college completion,” U.S. Representative Charles Gonzalez, the Texas Democrat who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a news release.

The report offers a variety of tools meant to help make that happen. "We can’t look at same old policy approaches we always discuss," Deborah Santiago, the report’s lead author and co-founder and vice president of policy and research for Excelencia in Education, said in an interview about the report. "This is a population that heretofore has not been served well."

Policy Recommendations

To increase Latino degree attainment, the report recommends a range of policy recommendations for communities, colleges, and state and federal officials.

Communities especially need to develop partnerships between school districts and higher education institutions to align high school and college curriculums, courses, and assessments to smooth and propel students’ transitions to college, according to Santiago. Such academic alignment is rarer in Latino communities than in others, the report says. The report also recommends that communities make greater efforts to educate Latino parents (about half of whom did not go to college); review internship and work place partnership programs; and look at utilizing community resources, such as child care or transportation, in cases in which higher education institutions cannot afford them.

For colleges themselves, Santiago emphasized the report's recommendation for implementing “high impact” education practices, such as those urged by the Association of American Colleges & Universities. Those practices have proven results that will benefit Latino students, the report says. The report also stresses the importance of data-informed decision-making and of increasing the availability of financial aid to low-income students.

And it recommends that higher education institutions search for ways to be more flexible in accommodating working students. Latino undergraduates had the highest average work-study aid award of any racial or ethnic group in 2007-8, according to the report. It offers a policy example from the Puerto Rico-based Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (University of the Sacred Heart), which offers main courses online as a backup system for students in good academic standing with unexpected work schedule changes. Similar programs, if embraced, will increase the Latino student graduation rate, the report says.

To state leaders, the report urges support for a rigorous middle and high school curriculum that prepares students for postsecondary education, development of databases that track degree equity across races, and the simplification of the transition process between two-year and four-year institutions.

For federal leaders, Santiago cited the report's call for increasing the capacity of “Hispanic-serving institutions,” which enroll more than half of all Latino undergraduates. “Since many of these institutions are public, community-focused, low in cost, and provide open admissions, increasing the capacity of these institutions to serve Latino and other students well is an important policy lever to increase their college access and retention to degree attainment,” the report says. It also recommends that federal policy makers enhance work-study awards, given the degree to which Latino students use the federal program.

It also recommends that Latinos who are not American citizens but have graduated from a U.S. high school be allowed to access higher education in the same way a state resident would -- not as a foreign or international student. This issue is being hotly debated and fought out in several states.

The Latino Portrait

The report also includes a profile of the Latino student demographic to provide facts and focus for future reformers. The profile is meant to debunk myths about the American Latino that, if embraced, might drive ineffective policies. “It is commonly assumed that the majority of Latinos are immigrants, high school dropouts, and English language learners,” the report states. But “the majority of Latinos do not fit this profile.”

Instead, the vast majority of Latinos are non-immigrants (in 2007, close to 90 percent of K-12 Latino students were U.S.-born); the majority are high school graduates (studies suggest between 21 and 40 percent of Latinos drop out), and most speak English (in 2007-8, more than 80 percent of Latino school-age children spoke English with no difficulty).

Among other data in the report: 37 percent of Latino high school graduates aged 18 to 24 attended college, compared to 49 percent of white high school graduates. And in 2007, about 50 percent of Latinos enrolled in college were the first in their families to go to college, compared with 28 percent of white students.

 

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