Equity & Diversity

Reports Spotlight Latino Dropout Rates, College Attendance

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 18, 2003 4 min read

A report by the Pew Hispanic Center provides new insight into the troubling statistic often cited by the federal government that one of every three Latino youths in the United States is a high school dropout.

But, by analyzing the trends among subgroups of Latinos who make up that stunning dropout rate, the study shows that not all news about Hispanic dropouts is bad.

“Hispanic Youth Dropping Out of U.S. Schools: Measuring the Challenge” is available from the Pew Hispanic Center. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“With Diploma in Hand: Hispanic High School Seniors Talk About Their Future” is available from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

For example, the dropout rate for U.S.-born Latino youths between the ages of 16 and 19 has slightly improved, declining from 15.2 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2000, according to the report.

Released last week, “Hispanic Youth Dropping Out of U.S. Schools: Measuring the Challenge” was written by Richard Fry, a senior research associate for the Washington-based center.

Meanwhile, another report released last week spells out characteristics that may affect college attendance of various groups of Latino high school seniors.

That report, “With Diploma in Hand: Hispanic High School Seniors Talk About Their Future,” is based on focus groups conducted with Latino parents and 50 high school seniors. It was published by the opinion-research organization Public Agenda, based in New York City, and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, located in San Jose, Calif.

Important Distinctions

The Pew report looks at one of the important distinctions between various groups of Latino dropouts: whether they ever attended U.S. schools.

One of the most frequently used dropout statistics is that one of every three Latinos between the ages of 18 and 24 living in the United States is a high school dropout. That figure has been cited by the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, and is based on data from Latino youths taken from the October 2000 Current Population Survey of the U.S. Census.

But Mr. Fry notes that the use of such a wide age span includes huge numbers of young Hispanic adults who have immigrated to the United States to work and never attended schools here.

Rather than use the Current Population Survey, Mr. Fry uses a larger set of data provided by the Census 2000 Summary File 3 and the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey, and he sticks to a smaller age range—only youths between 16 and 19.

By doing so, he found that the overall high school dropout rate for Latinos in that age range was 21 percent, considerably lower than the statistic from the president’s commission or the 28 percent quoted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. The NCES figure is based on data for 16- to 24-year-old Latinos.

But even with the smaller age range of 16 to 19, Mr. Fry still found that one in three of the nation’s more than half-million Hispanic dropouts is an immigrant who has had little or no contact with U.S. schools. About 80 percent of those youths do not speak English, the data showed. Those youths have high rates of employment—two- thirds have jobs—and tend to earn more money than other groups of dropouts in the U.S. labor market.

By contrast, nearly all of the U.S.-born Latino dropouts from 16 to 19 years of age are fluent in English, but fewer than half of them are employed.

Mr. Fry recommends that this country’s K-12 education system spend most of its dropout-prevention money on U.S.-born or immigrant Latinos who have already had a lot of exposure to U.S. schools.

“The needs of the Latino youths who have never been in U.S. schools are probably better addressed by adult education, basic language training, and workplace programs,” Mr. Fry said in an interview last week.

Poised for College

The “Diploma in Hand” report looks at the characteristics that influence college attendance by Hispanic youths.

It recommends that U.S. schools help Latinos understand what it takes to get into college. Specifically, the report says that Hispanic youths need a better understanding of the logistics involved in applying to college and the process for seeking financial aid.

Based on what was learned by interviewing students, the report’s author, John Immerwahr, divided Latino high school seniors into three groups: those who resemble college-preparatory students from upper-middle-class families and will almost surely attend college; those who come from poor families with no tradition of attending college, are poorly prepared academically, and don’t plan to attend college immediately after high school; and those whom the report calls “college-maybes” who may have an opportunity to go to college but face obstacles.

Among the college-maybes, the report finds some are badly misinformed about the steps it takes to get into college.

One young woman, for example, didn’t question a college-age student tour guide at a university who told her she could wait until the end of the summer to apply to universities in her state for entrance in the fall, when, in fact, the application deadline was July 1.

The report found that a single adult can make a huge difference for some of the college-maybes by helping them understand the steps to get accepted into college.

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