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Latino Population Critical for Achieving the Nation’s Educational Goals

Posted by Beth Doyle on Aug 31, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Topics: Trends in Higher Education

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos represented 17 percent of the nation's population in 2012. Although this statistic shows that Latinos represent the largest minority in the nation, it may seem relatively immaterial until further examination of the facts is included in the consideration.

  • Latinos in the United States number more than 53 million
  • Since 1970, the Latino population has increased nearly 600 percent, with a 50 percent increase since 2000
  • The Latino population is projected to at least double by 2060
  • By 2060, Latinos will represent almost one-third of the nation's population

If the United States is to achieve its goal of reclaiming — and maintaining — its status as the best-educated nation in the world, it will need to focus on increasing the educational attainment levels of Latinos.

A White House study issued in 2011 reported that roughly 50 percent of all Latino students completed high school on time. A mere 20 percent have earned a bachelor's degree — compared to 36 percent for all American adults — and just 4 percent hold an advanced degree. In terms of completion per 100 full-time equivalent students, Latinos measured 16 percent compared to 20 percent for Caucasian students.

In short, among all groups in the United States, Latinos have the lowest overall level of educational attainment.

The significance of the data cannot be ignored. The modern economy demands workers who are creative, skilled, and equipped with the necessary skills that employers need. The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University projects that at current rates, by 2020, the nation will face a shortage of 5 million workers possessing the required postsecondary credentials. It should also be noted that Latinos are seriously underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — the four STEM areas — which are fields in which the nation's employers are already struggling to find qualified candidates for open positions.

As the nation's fastest-growing segment of the population, Latinos can play a pivotal role in the success or failure of the United States achieving its educational goals. It is not that Latinos are not interested in education; 89 percent of the Latinos responding to a study conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2009 agreed that postsecondary education was important for success in a career — and a successful life.

  • What, then, is preventing larger numbers of Latinos from pursuing and completing their postsecondary educations? Although Latinos are far from a homogenous group with identical issues, research has shown that the following factors are major contributors to the lower level of educational attainment among this group:
  • Approximately 50 percent of Latino students in 2008 were the first generation of their families to attend college. This was almost twice the first-generation rate for white students. This means that neither the students nor their parents had sufficient experience with the higher education system to understand the finer points of postsecondary education, such as financial aid, admission requirements, registration periods, and course requirements.
  • Regardless of age, many Latino students work in excess of 30 hours per week for their own support or to help support their families. Financial pressures are often immense, and without a thorough understanding of the financial aid system, they may feel that it will be impossible to pay for an education.
  • Latinos may be unaware of ways to accelerate the completion of their degrees through prior learning assessment. PLA allows students to earn college credit for skills they have learned on the job or from life experiences. Adult learners who have earned college credits through PLA are 2.5 times more likely to complete their degrees. Latinos who took advantage of PLA programs performed as well as any other group. However, Latinos are less likely to have earned credit through PLA than any other demographic group.

In a speech on education, President Obama remarked that other nations could "out-compete us tomorrow" because they are "out-educating us today." If America is to have complete economic recovery and become the educational powerhouse it once was, postsecondary attainment levels must increase dramatically — and this will require improving the attainment levels among the Latino population.