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A student receives help at Bronx Community College in New York City (photo by Ryan Brenizer)

It’s no secret that the growing Latino population in America will have large implications for the U.S. educational landscape over the next generation. By 2020, Latinos are projected to account for 25 percent of the nation’s population aged 18-29. Government officials, policymakers and teachers alike face the challenge of improving the services and support provided to Latino students, particularly when it comes to increasing college completion rates. As of 2011, 21 percent of Latinos had an associate degree or higher, compared to 57 percent of Asians, 44 percent of whites and 30 percent of blacks.

“It is pretty clear in the data that our ability to educate Latino students and prepare them for [college] is a failed enterprise,” said Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, on a conference call yesterday about a new report on Latino college completion rates.

The report—by Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit focused on how America can better serve Latino students—includes a state-by-state fact sheet and highlights successes in improving Latino college graduation rates.

California is of particular importance: It has the largest Latino population in the country (38 percent of the state’s residents self-identify as Latino), and one of every two K-12 students in is Latino. Only New Mexico, with 60 percent, has a higher percentage.

In California, 16 percent of Latino adults hold at least an associate degree, compared to 39 percent of all adults. The college graduation rate for Latinos in California is 35 percent, compared to 47 percent for their white peers.

“If California is the bellwether of other states, we’re really going to be challenged to get the kind of educational attainment that we need to be successful,” says Deborah Santiago, co-founder of Excelencia in Education and an author of the study.

The success Santiago of which speaks is reaching the goal set by President Barack Obama: to have 60 percent of young people (aged 25-34) across the nation with some postsecondary credential by 2020. To achieve that, the report says 5.5 million Latino students would need to earn college degrees in the next eight years.

“Almost the entirety of the population growth that we’ll look at over the next two decades will consist of students and individuals that we have not been particularly successful at serving,” says Dennis Jones, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. “And if we don’t serve them well, then the country will have no hope of reaching the goals for an educated workforce.”

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Nick Pandolfo writes for The Hechinger Report. A native of New York City, he majored in education at Eugene Lang College and later taught ESL for four years in New York, China and South Korea. Before entering...

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