News Column

Florida Hispanics Outpace the Rest of the Nation in College Degrees

April 27, 2011

Michael Vasquez

Cap and gown with diploma

President Obama's goal of the United States achieving the world's highest proportion of college graduates will be significantly boosted -- or dragged down -- by the fate of Hispanic students, according to a pair of education reports released this week

One of those reports comes from the White House itself. The Obama administration on Wednesday will release "Winning the future: Improving education for the Latino community." Preliminary excerpts from the report emphasize that Hispanics are by far the largest minority in U.S. public schools -- comprising more than one in five in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Hispanics are also projected to account for the majority of the nation's population growth between 2005 and 2050.

But Hispanic students for years have graduated from college at lower rates than the population as a whole, making America's progress in education impossible if Hispanics continue to lag behind, the White House argues.

The theme is likely to resurface again when Obama delivers Miami Dade College's commencement address Friday night.

In the other report released this week -- authored by the Washington-based nonprofit Excelencia In Education -- a spotlight is placed on Florida's Hispanic college students.

What those numbers show: about 32 percent of Florida Hispanic adults have earned an associate's degree or higher, a number higher than in any other state. The national average is 19 percent.

Yet even that first-place showing among Florida Hispanics was behind Florida's overall degree attainment percentage of 36 percent.

"It's good news for Florida compared to the rest of the country," said Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education. "But it's also a story that there's lots more work to be done."

Florida's sizable Hispanic middle class is a key factor in the state's relatively high rate of Hispanic college graduates. Research has shown higher income levels, as well as college-educated parents, significantly boost a child's chances of completing his or her degree.

Excelencia's report, which is the first of a planned series of state-by-state fact sheets, did not break down Hispanic by country of origin.

In the White House's report, Hispanic college achievement is called "integral" to the administration's overriding educational goals.

"This is an American issue, not just a Latino issue," said Juan Sepulveda, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Sepulveda singled out pre-kindergarten education as one area with much room for improvement -- Hispanics, he said, are the country's only ethnic group with less than half their children enrolled in pre-K classes.



Source: Copyright (c) 2011, The Miami Herald