Higher Education

Latino college students are falling behind whites and blacks, new research shows

Hint: it’s not just differences in academic prep

Latino students have been making progress in college and earning degrees at a faster rate than in the past, but not at nearly the same rates as their peers, a new report shows. Even as Latinos move up the educational ladder, whites and blacks are outpacing them, which will leave them at a disadvantage as the economy increasingly demands degrees in exchange for decent jobs.

Last year, 45 percent of Latinos had at least some college education, compared with 35 percent in 1992, according to the study, Latino Education and Economic Progress: Running Faster but Still Falling Behind. But during the same time period, the college education gap between Latinos and whites has grown to 29 percentage points from 23 points in 1992, and the gap with blacks has increased to 21 percentage points from 10 points.

Part of the gap is explained by where students go to college. More than two-thirds of first-year Latino students go to open-access two- and four-year colleges. These colleges tend to be underfunded and overcrowded, according to the report’s authors, scholars at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. (The report was partly funded by the Lumina Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which are also among the funders of The Hechinger Report.)

At the same time, white enrollment at these open-access colleges has declined by 18 percent since 2004 and has increased at the top selective colleges, which are associated with an 80 percent chance of graduating.

Academic preparation and racial disparities in K-12 education clearly play a role in who graduates from college. But the report argues that the “lack of resources at open-access colleges is one of the main causes of high dropout rates…among less advantaged students, including less advantaged Latino students.”

The authors point to the gap between white and Latino students with similar levels of academic preparation. Every year, 125,000 Latino students are among those who score in the top half of high school students on college admissions tests. But only 20 percent of them attend one of the top 500 selective colleges, compared with 35 percent of white students with similar test scores.

That same gap persists among those who score in the top 25 percent of the SAT and ACT exams. While 78 percent of whites in this bracket earn a degree, only 63 percent of Latinos do.

In addition 60,000 of those Latino students – nearly half – do not earn a certificate or a degree of any kind within eight years of graduating from high school.

“There are a big chunk of these students who are college-ready,” said Megan Fasules, a report co-author and assistant research professor at Georgetown, “and with the right support, they could increase completion rates quite a bit.”

One bit of potentially bright news is that Latinos are among the most likely to finish a certificate program — 60 of Latinos finish within three years, compared with 47 percent of whites and 37 percent of blacks.

Although the authors were not sure what accounted for this spike in success, they believe that more understanding could bring more solutions.

“With all the bad news, it’s clear that if we can keep this forward progression going, Latinos could achieve educational equality,” said Fasules. “They’re moving forward, we just need to figure out the right supports to keep them on that trajectory.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

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Meredith Kolodner

Meredith Kolodner is a staff writer. She previously covered schools for the New York Daily News and was an editor at InsideSchools.org and for The… See Archive

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