Finally, some good news about Latino education.
According to a report from the Pew Hispanic Center, college enrollment among Latinos between the ages of 18 and 24 rose sharply in the last year, jumping by 24% from 2009 to 2010. Young Latinos are now the second largest ethnic or racial group on campuses, surpassing the number of blacks in that age group.
The best news is that the increase cannot just be attributed to population growth due to immigration or birth rate. There are signs that more Latinos are succeeding in school: the number of Latinos completing high school rose to 73 percent in 2010, a big hike from the 60% rate in 2000.
In addition, the number of college-eligible Latinos enrolling in college has also shot up to record levels, the study showed. In October 2010, 44% of Latinos who had completed high school were enrolled in college, up from 39% just a year earlier.
“More and more Hispanic students are seeing the value of college and are choosing to pursue that goal,” said Mamie Lynch, higher education research and policy analyst with The Education Trust. “People realize that a bachelor’s degree really is necessary now to get high-paying jobs and move into the middle class.”
The Pew study backs up Lynch’s contention, noting: “Employers continue to pay the typical young worker with a college degree about 50% more than the typical young worker whose educational attainment was a high school diploma.”
Against a backdrop of headlines about the Latino education gap and high dropout rates, the college enrollment numbers may have come as a surprise to many people. But not to me.
The high school honors English classes I taught in a suburban Houston school district, where I worked for a couple of years, were filled with young college-bound Latinos. These students were not headed for the ranks of grim statistics. Their eyes were fixed on futures that included medical and engineering degrees. Their present included the National Honor Society, Advanced Placement courses, and community service projects.
At Lone Star College, the Houston-area college system where I now teach, Latinos made up about 25% of the 68,000 students enrolled in the spring semester.
The Latino education gap is a real issue facing the community. The dropout rate remains high; the college completion rate remains low. But the community’s education story also includes successes.
“These numbers show that students, parents and families are interested in going to college,” said Lynch. “They are doing what they need to get to college.”
However, Lynch pointed out, more needs to be done to help young Latinos not only get to college, but to remain there.
When students are considering colleges, they should research the school’s completion rates—the number of students who actually earn degrees. The rate is a good indicator of the school’s quality, Lynch said.
Too often, she noted, Latinos and low-income students choose colleges for their affordability and proximity, rather than the school’s quality.
“We think that students should go to the most competitive college they can get into,” said Lynch. “If a student chooses a college below their qualification, it’s not going to set them up for success.”
One online tool students can use in deciding on a college is College Results Online, which breaks down graduation rates for individual schools by ethnicity and allows users to compare schools.
In addition, said Lynch, students need support navigating the college culture and expectations once they get to campus. Going away to college can be especially disruptive for Latino students, who are often reluctant to move far away from home.
“It’s definitely encouraging to see the numbers increasing,” said Lynch. “But we need colleges, universities and high schools to step up and help students get there and assist them once they get there.”