Divided We Learn

New research shows Latinos closing the racial gap on college degrees, but still lagging far behind whites

Big differences in graduation rates persist, depending on the institution

Latino students have made progress closing the college graduation gap between themselves and their white peers, but results vary widely by institution, a new study shows.

The college graduation gap between Latinos and whites is 10 percentage points on average, according to A Look at Latino Student Success, a new report from the Education Trust.

Still, as more Latinos have enrolled in college, more are graduating, which has meant that the gap with their white peers narrowed by 2.7 percentage points between 2002 and 2015. On average, 53.6 percent of Latinos earn a bachelor’s degree within in six years, compared with 63.3 percent of whites.

The study also compared institutions that enroll similar student populations, in terms of income, race and academic preparation, and found significant differences.

“What colleges and universities do with the students they enroll matters quite a bit,” said Andrew Nichols, Ed Trust’s director of higher education research and data analytics and author of the report. “It shows that the gaps aren’t just the natural way things have to be.”

Related: Five things colleges need to do to help black and Latino students

For example, Hofstra University and the University of San Francisco are both medium-sized, nonprofit private universities with similar average SAT scores. About a quarter of students at both institutions are low-income. But only 50 percent of Latino students at Hofstra graduated within six years (compared with 70 percent of white students) while with 69 percent of Latino students at USF did the same, according to federal data.

One reason this matters is that college degrees make a significant difference in earnings for most people. A bachelor’s degree nets nearly $25,000 more per year, on average, compared with just a high school diploma.

And right now, even though the graduation gap has narrowed a bit, whites between the ages of 25 and 34 are more than two and a half times as likely to have a bachelor’s degree as Latinos the same age (48 percent compared to 18 percent).

The study also took a look at Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), defined as those with student populations that are at least 25 percent Latino. On average, students at HSIs do better, even when compared to institutions with similar average SAT scores and low-income populations, Nichols said.

“It may be that being at an HSI has an effect on how it feels to be a Latino student on campus. It could also be that there are more culturally relevant activities or courses,” Nichols said, noting, however, that many HSIs have significant room for improvement.

One note of caution when comparing institutions, however, is the diversity of the Latino population. Educational attainment varies significantly depending on country of origin, race and immigration status. Different institutions may enroll different types of Latino students, with different educational needs and challenges.

Still, the success of some of the high flyers named in the report may offer lessons and strategies that would allow Latino students at more colleges to achieve their educational goals.

Letters

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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