Education

Study Examines ‘At Risk’ Black, Hispanic Students

By Debra Viadero — September 24, 1986 4 min read

More than half of the black and Hispanic high-school students who were sophomores in 1980 had dropped out of school or graduated “at risk” by 1984, according to an analysis of new data from the federally-sponsored study, “High School and Beyond.”

The analysis by the Hispanic Policy Development Project, released at a I House subcommittee hearing last week, examined data compiled by the U.S. Education Department in a follow- up survey of 12,199 students first questioned in 1980. The new survey, and a similar follow-up conducted in 1982, are part of the agency’s longitudinal study of high-school students.

‘Alarming Consequences’

The survey’s data on minorities show a trend with “alarming consequences, ' according to Siobhan Oppenheimer- Nicolau, the Hispanic policy group’s president.

“The incidence of problems that lead to poverty and limited adult opportunity rises sharply as you move down from the category of high-school graduates with C-plus averages or higher, to at-risk graduates, to non-graduates,” she said.

The group’s study defines at-risk graduates as those with grade averages of C or lower.

Only 8 percent of the graduates were looking for work in 1984, compared with 17 percent of the at-risk graduates and 25 percent of the dropouts, according to the analysis.

The group also found that 10 percent of all female graduates had borne a child by 1984, while 21 percent of the at-risk graduates and 58 percent of the dropouts had done so. About 25 percent of female Hispanic dropouts in the survey cited pregnancy as the reason they left school.

Female dropouts were nine times more likely to be on welfare than graduates, according to the analysis.

While minorities were disproportionately represented in the at-risk graduate and dropout categories, whites outnumbered them in both groups and conformed to the group’s pattern of poverty and early parenthood.

“Education status is more significant than either ethnic background or class background in predicting a youth’s future prospects,” Ms. Oppenheimer- Nicolau said.

Department’s Analysis

The Education Department’s office of educational research and improvement, in a separate analysis of the “High School and Beyond” data, found that four years after graduating, the class of 1980 had become somewhat less interested in climbing the ladder of success and more concerned about family matters.

Although the 1980 seniors continued to rank professional success high as a life goal, researchers found that many achievement-oriented values had slipped in the ratings since the students’ graduation.

For example, in 1984, 80 percent of the young people interviewed said success in work was a “very important goal.” Eighty-six percent had said so four years earlier.

Similarly, the proportion of the group saying that having ''lots of money” was very important dropped five percentage points-from 30 percent in 1980 to 25 percent in 1984.

Family-oriented goals, such as marriage, rearing children, having leisure time, and living near family members, moved up in the ratings, according to the survey.

In 1984, 72 percent of the graduates said leisure time was an important goal- an increase of four percentage points from 1980. Eighteen percent of the respondents said living near parents and relatives was very important. Four years earlier, only 14 percent rated it as high.

But the class of 1980 continues to show little concern about social issues, according to the data. In both 1980 and 1984, only 13 percent of the graduates said correcting social and economic inequalities was very important.

In contrast, 27 percent of a representative sample of graduates from the class of 1972 said correcting such inequalities was important. The 1972 seniors are the focus of a separate longitudinal study by the agency.

Labor-Force Participation

The new survey also found that four years after graduation, most members of the 1980 class were working or continuing their education. Sixty-six percent of the group was working either full or part time in February 1984. Thirty-nine percent was enrolled in some form of postsecondary education or training. Twenty- six percent had married and 17 percent had one or more children.

Of the 1980 seniors who were continuing their postsecondary education, researchers found’a strong relationship between enrollment and the type of high school the seniors attended. By October 1983, 61 percent of the private-school graduates were still in college, compared with only 37 percent of the public-school graduates.

Business, named by 24 percent of the students, continued to be the seniors’ top field of study in college.

Forty percent of the students enrolled in college said they planned to attend graduate school. Biological science students were the most likely to continue their studies, business students the least likely.

Computer Use Surveyed

Agency researchers also used the 1984 survey to measure computer use among members of the class of 1980.

They wrote that although 56 percent of those surveyed had used computers by the spring of 1984, class members who did not go on to college “reported exposure to computers at only half the rate of students, and were the least likely to have had experience with any kind of electronic device, even those, such as word processors, that are encountered everywhere in the work place.”

Copies of the Hispanic Policy Development Project analysis may be obtained free of charge from the H.P.D.P., Suite 310, 1001 Connecticut Ave., NW., Washington, D.C. 20036.

Copies of the Education Department’s report, titled “Four Years After High School: A Capsule Description of 1980 Seniors,” and computer tapes are available from the U.S. Education Department, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Information and Media Services Branch, 555 New Jersey Ave., N.W., Room 304B, Capitol Place Building, Washington, D.C. 20208-1327.

A version of this article appeared in the September 24, 1986 edition of Education Week as Study Examines ‘At Risk’ Black, Hispanic Students

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