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Latinos and education
Credit: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

This year marks a new record for high school graduation rates across our country, a report from the White House shows. And while equity gaps in graduation rates remain, Latino students made significant progress.

Over five years, Hispanic students’ graduation rates climbed seven percentage points to 78 percent. That’s good news. Because while the national figure remains slightly higher, up four percentage points to 83 percent, the graduation rate for Latino students is increasing at a faster pace.

This is an important positive trend, and now we have an opportunity to build on this success to ensure high school graduates are also academically prepared for post-secondary education beyond high school.

Related: More students are graduating but that’s not the whole story

Three key facts from our recent report, “The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2015: Hispanic Students,” produced with ACT, demonstrate that high school graduation does not mark the end of the educational aspirations of Latino students.

Our report found the following that can inform what schools can do to ensure their graduates are ready and able to take on the challenges of post-secondary education.

Latino students have high post-secondary aspirations: While only about 15 percent of Latino adults earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, 41 percent of ACT-tested Latino high school students aspire to attain a bachelor’s degree and 34 percent hope to someday earn a graduate or professional degree.

Parental involvement is crucial to attaining these goals. Schools can and should partner with organizations to provide the tools and information families need to help support their college readiness upon high school graduation and to understand their college options.

Latino students who take core curriculum courses in high school are more college-ready: The students who took core curriculum courses and more in high school were more college-ready across subjects—in English, reading, math and science—than those who did not.

Mapping the curriculum to college success, especially at schools with high concentrated Latino student enrollment, is a vital part of making sure graduates are ready for the academic work that lies ahead. Students whose education aligned with the recommended core curriculum—four years of English and three years each of math, social studies and science—were academically prepared to take on the challenges of higher education.

Latino college preparedness has increased, but it remains lower than other groups: The percentage of Latino high school graduates meeting three or more of the college readiness benchmarks laid out by the ACT increased from 23 to 25 percent from 2011 to 2015. That two percentage-point increase is the largest increase from any other group, except African American students, whose rates increased to 12 percent from 10 percent. But they still fall below their white peers, whose rates of college readiness are double that of Latino students.

Related: Opinion America can’t reach its higher ed goals if it excludes its young Latino population

“Latino students have high post-secondary aspirations.”

To close this gap, districts should work to increase Latino faculty representation. Intentional, targeted recruitment of Latino teachers can spark an interest in higher education for Latino high school students, leading to more post-secondary aspirations.

In the near future, 80 percent of jobs will require a post-secondary degree. To meet the economic and educational goals of this country, we need to ensure that all students have access to higher education. Latinos, in particular, make up a young and fast-growing population, and their educational attainment is critical. Hispanic students represented 24 percent of public school enrollment in 2011, and are expected to represent 30 percent by 2023.

The increase in Latino high school graduates is encouraging. It means that our country’s schools are doing their part in making sure all of our children are able to earn their high school diplomas.  However, in order to meet the quickly growing need for college-educated workers, we must ensure that this number continues to rise, and that these graduates are ready, able and, perhaps most importantly, excited about enrolling in higher education after graduation.

Deborah Santiago is chief operating officer and vice president for policy of Excelencia in Education.

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