Equity & Diversity

Latino Students Are ‘Stalling’ in College, Study Finds

By Catherine Gewertz — October 11, 2017 2 min read
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Latino students are graduating from high school and enrolling in college at fast-improving rates, but they’re stalling in college and not earning bachelor’s degrees, a new study says.

The report, published today by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, lays out a good news/bad news scenario.

Latino students have delivered the biggest improvements in high school graduation rates of any racial or ethnic group since the 1990s, even though they still trail their black and white peers.

Their rates of enrollment in two- and four-year colleges have improved more than those of their white and African-American peers. And Latinos complete certificate programs more often than their black and white peers, too.

But when it comes to completing college degrees, they lag behind other groups. Only two in 10 Latinos earn bachelor’s degrees, compared to nearly 1 in 3 blacks and 45 percent of whites.

Latinos have improved their rate of degree completion, but not as much as whites and African-Americans have. In the last 15 years, the proportion of Latinos with college degrees rose from 35 percent to 45 percent. But that 10-percentage-point gain is outpaced by the gains of black students (22 percentage points) and white students (16 points), according to the Georgetown study.

One key reason for Latinos’ lower completion rates is their tendency to start college later, and often at less-selective colleges, the study says. More-selective colleges tend to have higher graduation rates. And the differentials are illustrated in the report: Only 36 percent of Latinos at broad-access colleges graduate, while 68 percent of those at selective schools do.

Among Latinos, immigrants are at the greatest risk to forgo postsecondary education. Only one-third of Latinos born in other countries have some postsecondary education, compared with 6 in 10 Latinos born in the United States, the study finds.

The colleges that Latino students choose also influence their chances of graduation. The study finds that nearly two-thirds of Latino students enroll in community colleges with low graduation rates, and only 15 percent attend selective colleges with higher graduation rates.

The combination of those dynamics leaves Latinos at a disadvantage in the workplace: With credentials below a bachelor’s degree, they tend to get stuck in the middle tiers of the workforce, and earn less than African-American and white adults, the study reports.

Latinos are feeling the effects of “profound structural shifts” in the economy that put people with only high school diplomas at a disadvantage, the Georgetown study said. That has big implications for a group that’s the fastest-growing segment of the labor force. Latinos are projected to make up 30 percent of workers by 2050, the study says.

But they “tend to be concentrated in occupations that require less education and where wage growth is slowest, oftentimes even when they acquire postsecondary credentials,” the report said.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.