• August 31, 2015

Low Hispanic Graduation Rates Threaten Obama's College-Attainment Goal

Colleges are doing a poor job of graduating Hispanic students, no matter how selective their admissions policies, and even when they are designated as Hispanic-serving institutions, says a new report by the American Enterprise Institute.

The report, "Rising to the Challenge: Raising Hispanic Graduation Rates as a National Priority," comes at a time when the Hispanic population in the United States is rapidly growing and the academic success of Hispanic students is seen as crucial to meeting President Obama's goal that the nation have the world's highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

Across the country, 51 percent of Hispanic students who start college complete a bachelor's degree in six years, compared with 59 percent of white students. That disparity holds true regardless of the ability of the students or the reputation of the colleges: Hispanic students graduate at lower rates than do white students with similar academic backgrounds across similarly ranked colleges, from the nation's least-selective institutions to its most-selective colleges and universities.

Even many colleges that qualify as Hispanic-serving institutions—a federal designation that makes them eligible for special funds from several agencies—are graduating less than half of their Hispanic students, the report says.

The authors of the report looked at graduation-rate data from the U.S. Department of Education at a variety of colleges. They grouped the institutions into six categories based on how selective they are in admitting students, ranging from "noncompetitive" to "most competitive," as defined by the popular guide Barron's Profiles of American Colleges.

When the researchers examined graduation rates among similarly selective colleges and universities, they found considerable variation from institution to institution in Hispanic students' performance. That finding indicates that while student background is important, institutional practices also play a role, said Andrew P. Kelly, one of the report's authors and a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The data "show quite clearly that colleges and universities cannot place all of the blame on students for failing to graduate," Mr. Kelly said.

The report questions whether the United States can achieve the president's educational goal, given the overall low college completion rates of the growing Hispanic population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 37 percent of the 44 million Hispanic U.S. residents are under the age of 20, and by 2020, Hispanics will make up 22 percent of the nation's college-age population.

"These are the students who are going to replace the baby boomers, and who we will rely on to drive our economy over the next several decades," said Hilary Pennington, director of education, postsecondary success, and special initiatives at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


1. honore - March 18, 2010 at 11:09 am

Dear Chronicle & Jennifer,

Where to even begin with this article on such a "profound" report?

1. Perhaps the question should be NOT why HALF of the entering "Hispanic" students don't graduate, as much as WHAT criteria other than ethnic background was considered when they were admitted in the first place. At every institution I have worked, departments, colleges/schools and admissions offices had as one of their primary "social justice" goals, the admission of "minorities". Very few if any of these campus gate-keepers actually gave a nano-second of consideration to the fact that many of these "students" would not be on campus past the Freshman year because of a woefully inadequate K-12 background that rendered them at a HUGE disadvantage over students whose ethnic/racial background eliminated them from “special admissions” consideration. I sat on these admissions committees and these “minority admissions advocates” were little more than Noah's Ark passenger ticket punchers. “I got 2 zebras here, 2 giraffes there...anyone got another purple polar bear for me in Engineering?”...continued...

2. chemteach - March 18, 2010 at 11:38 am

As an instructor at a "Hispanic-serving" institution, I know daily the challenges faced by hispanic students. I currently have a student who wants to eventually go to pharmacy school. Her family doesn't even understand why she wants to get a bachelor's degree much less a pharmacy degree. Working on her bachelor's and pharmacy degrees will require her to leave her hometown. Such moves require a lot of support from family which she simply doesn't have. This is just one anecdote from 20 years of teaching in New Mexico which has always been a hispanic majority state. I could write at least 100 more. Hispanic women who want a higher education face cultural, preparatory, and gender barriers not just from society as a whole, but also from their own families. Please understand that I am generalizing; I am not saying that every hispanic student is in that situation. I married into a hispanic family and they are very supportive of education. However, la familia es toda (The family is everything) is very prevalent.

3. honore - March 19, 2010 at 08:14 am

2. And as for exponential growth of the “Hispanic” population, I would remind the writers of this report to consider that MOST of this growth is un- documented/il -legal and not oriented to college because of the Pre-K-12 "education" they did not receive before entering the US, but to domestic/manual labor at low wages in an underground economy that we as a country continue to closer our eyes to. And the fact that they are il-legal, immediately eliminates them from college funding, loans, grants, scholarship.

4. honore - March 19, 2010 at 08:18 am

3. “Hispanic” is NOT a race. One only needs to ask Alberto Fujimori the former Japanese-descended President of Peru or Fidel Castro, the former European-descended leader of Cuba or any of the Corsican, Spanish or Mallorcan-descended Governors of Puerto Rico. For the C.H.of E to YET AGAIN racialize the contrived term of “Hispanic” (or its uglier cousin, “latino”) speaks volumes about the long journey to intelligence that the current “hispanic/latino” dialogue in America has yet to travel. Such a statement ALONE discredits the entire report and subsequent article. Or are we now going to start listening to the Taco Bell Chihuahua for astute observations on the fallacious and NON-monolithic" Hispanic” nation.

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