News Column

A College Lockout?

October 2002, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Scott Williams

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*The second in a three-part series on educating tomorrow’s Hispanic leaders.

Qualifying for college does not guarantee that a student will earn a degree. Hispanics in particular face a host of obstacles on the way to completion of their postsecondary education.

On the basis of some statistics, it would appear that all is well regarding Hispanic college participation: The number of Hispanic students attending college has shown substantial increases and is expected to continue to rise. The American Council on Education reports that 1.2 million Hispanic students were enrolled in college in 1998; by 2001, that number had climbed to 1.5 million, according to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). And HACU expects Hispanic college enrollment to more than double by 2015. The number of associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees awarded to Hispanics all showed considerable increases over the last decade (see chart).

But proponents of Hispanic educational improvement say the number that really matters is the percentage of Hispanics who attend college, not the raw attendance figures, and that percentage is well below the national average.

A study published in 2000 by Public Agenda for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that only 20 percent of Hispanics ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in college in that year, compared with 37 percent of Anglos.

Hispanics also have a much lower graduation rate – both from high school and college – than either Anglos or African Americans. In 2000, according to Census Bureau reports, 10.6 percent of Hispanics had some type of college degree, compared with 17 percent of African-Americans and 28.1 percent of Anglos.

HACU reports that Hispanics accounted for only 8.2 percent of the associate degrees awarded in 1998. That same year, Hispanics earned 5.6 percent of the bachelor’s degrees, 3.8 percent of the master’s degrees, and 4.5 percent of the doctoral or professional degrees.

Hispanics make up about 12.5 percent of the nation’s population. What is keeping their graduation rates so low in comparison? One problem is that many Hispanic students qualified to attend college never enroll, and those who do enroll often fail to graduate. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education identifies family income as a major obstacle to Hispanic college success.

According to the article, among students qualified to attend college, 91 percent of those from high-income families applied, compared with 62 percent of those from low-income households. Furthermore, 83 percent of high-income students eventually enrolled in college, compared with less than half of low-income students who did so.

These statistics are especially noteworthy because of the disproportionately high percentage of Hispanics living in low-income households, says Sara Martinez Tucker, president and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 22.8 percent of Hispanics lived in poverty in 1999, compared with 7.7 percent of Anglos. The same year, 30.3 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty, compared with 9.4 percent of their Anglo counterparts.

"We’re still alarmed that the progress we are making is not keeping pace with what is happening in this country, particularly with regard to professional jobs," says Ms. Martinez Tucker. I’m afraid we’re going to lose whatever gains we’ve had if we don’t catch this generation of [Hispanic] students and help them get to college."

Ms. Martinez Tucker says that Hispanic children living in poverty confront at least two major obstacles to college attendance – insufficient money and negative attitudes. Parents, she says, cite the lack of money as the reason why their children can’t attend college, while students point to a shortage of role models. "They say, 'Nobody in our community went to college and lived a better life than my family, so what is my incentive?' " says Ms. Martinez Tucker.

Once Hispanic students arrive at college, the obstacles they face fall into three types – financial, academic, and social. Along with providing scholarships, the HSF is developing programs to help students overcome academic and social barriers, says Ms. Martinez Tucker. Such programs include student chapters on college campuses, alumni mentoring, and Saturday clinics for parents and their college-age children. The Saturday clinics, held in areas with large Hispanic populations, help create a college-bound culture by stimulating interest in college, assisting with the application process, and providing information about financial aid, Ms. Martinez Tucker says.

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