By John Benson, Voxxi
A brand-new Pew Research Center report reveals not only is the high school dropout rate at a record low but Hispanic high school graduates have surpassed non-Hispanic whites in the college enrollment rate.
“Over the last few years, particularly since the great recession, I’ve been following college-going in general, and Hispanics have made strides,” Pew Hispanic Center Senior Research Associate Rick Fry told VOXXI. “This is the first time we have published on this particular sort of college enrollment rate. In the past we simply said, ‘Okay, let’s take all the 18 to 24 years old out there and sort of ask, are they currently enrolled in college?’ That’s different.”
The new study, which was co-authored by Fry and Director Paul Taylor, focused around the class of 2012, which showed a record 69 percent of Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in college. That figure is two percentage points higher than the rate among their non-Hispanic white counterparts. As recently as the class of 2000, only 49 percent of Hispanic high school graduates immediately enrolled in college the following fall.
Furthermore, the increase is tied directly to 2011 high school dropout data with 14 percent of Hispanics, age 16 to 24, falling into the category. That figure was cut in half compared to 2000 when 28 percent of Hispanics were high school dropouts.
Overall, the data is eye opening.
“Obviously all of that is very encouraging to us,” League of United Latin American Citizens [LULAC] Director of Education Policy Luis A. Torres told VOXXI. “They note there is a strong cultural bias for education among the Latino community more than the average American. That is data we’ve seen for a long time, that 88 percent of students surveyed by ages 16 to 24 say they need college education in order to be successful in life.”
Torres added that another factor listed in the study is the labor market activity has accelerated college enrollment of Hispanics. Basically, the high unemployment rate has pointed Latino youth towards higher education.
Excelencia in Education Co-Founder and Vice President for Policy and Research Deborah Santiago told VOXXI, she agrees a soft job market has played a role in increasing college enrollment for Latinos but she also feels the pipeline is doing a better job of preparing today’s Hispanic youth.
“We still have a lot of progress to do in K-12, but Latinos are more likely to be college ready than they would have been in the past,” Santiago said.
Hispanic high school graduates – where are they going to?
While Hispanic educational leaders are championing the new data, the Pew study leads to more questions, such as what college are Latinos attending and are they graduating?
“What we’re showing is that more young Hispanics are going on to college the following fall, and while most observers would think that’s a good thing, there’s more to it,” Fry said “What is their college experience going to be and how many of them four to six years down the road will have bachelor’s degrees? We do know that Hispanic undergraduates lag in finishing bachelor’s degrees.”
Santiago said Latino undergraduates are 14 percent of undergraduates overall in college, and annually make up 10 percent of graduates. And while the Pew study shows 69 percent of the class of 2012 Hispanic high school graduates are going to college, the current overall graduation rate for Latinos is 47 percent.
The good news is, she said, an upcoming Excelencia in Education study shows that college graduation figure is also on the rise.
“We need to focus a little bit more of our energy on retention and completion as well,” Santiago said. “That means, what are institutions doing to retain them once they enroll? Are they providing academic support services, things that we know work like first year experience and learning communities? Those are ways to retain students to completion.”
Are these findings misleading?
The graduation figure among Hispanics also may be misleading, stressed Torres, who added Latinos are less likely to be enrolled in four-year universities, less likely to be enrolled in selective four-year universities and less likely to be enrolled full-time.
“It may take a student longer to complete a bachelor’s degree if they have a staggered sort of enrollment term that starts at a community college, maybe includes a year off and ends up enrolling at a four-year institution,” Torres said. “That’s a longer enrollment term, which makes college completion rates for Hispanics as a whole much lower because usually those are calculated in four-year increments.”
Considering the momentum experienced around Hispanic college enrollment, Torres said the time is now to reshape public policies. Specifically in his crosshairs is financial aid. He said Hispanics are more likely to apply for financial aid but are the group least likely to receive any.
“From this study we know Hispanics are less likely to enroll in a four-year university, yet our financial aid system is designed for a traditional student at a four-year university that is likely full-time,” Torres said. “So our financial aid system is designed to reward that type of traditional student and Hispanics aren’t that. Many are post-traditional students, go to community college, work 30 to 35 hours, are enrolled part-time and may take longer to finish a bachelor’s degree.”
So while Latinos may go to college, they are less likely than their non-Hispanic white counterparts to be enrolled full-time. In October 2011, only 78 percent of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-old college students were enrolled full-time compared to 85 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
Another area where Santiago said the Pew study could lead to changes is in the number of Latinos receiving associate’s degrees.
While 20 percent of Hispanic adults have an associate’s degree, the figure is doubled for non-Hispanic whites.
“We have every opportunity to close that gap and build on these enrollment numbers,” Santiago said. “These are real opportunities for people to make an investment and support the population. We see pockets of that happening all over the country.”
Overall, Fry feels his Pew study is possibly the tip of the iceberg that the Latino community has been waiting for and working towards. However, he points out the future remains uncertain.
“The findings are an optimistic, encouraging educational indicator,” Fry said. “It’s good that we’re finding that Hispanic high school dropout rates are narrowing and diminishing because in today’s job market the opportunities, if you don’t at least have a high school education, are very limited. So the notion that immediately following commencement or high school graduation that they’re going through the steps to get themselves on college campuses, that’s generally a positive sign, but you have to remember those are steps in a wider process.”
Figures at a glance
• 69 percent of Hispanic high school graduates in the class of 2012 enrolled in college that fall, which is higher than 67 percent of non-Hispanic white counterparts. As recently as the class of 2000, only 49 percent of Hispanic high school graduates immediately enrolled in college the following fall. The class of 2012 finds 67 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 63 percent of non-Hispanic blacks and 84 percent of non-Hispanic Asians enrolled in college in October.
• 14 percent of Hispanics aged 16 to 24 were high school dropouts in 2011 compared to 28 percent in 2000. During that same time frame, non-Hispanic white high school dropouts declined from 7 percent to 5 percent.
• Hispanic college students are less likely than their non-Hispanic white counterparts to enroll in a four-year college (that’s 56 percent versus 72 percent).
• When young Latinos go to college, they are less likely than their non-Hispanic white counterparts to be enrolled full-time. In October 2011, only 78 percent of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-old college students were enrolled full-time. By comparison, 85 percent of similar non-Hispanic whites were enrolled full-time.