•The top three majors for bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanics in 1998 were business, social sciences, and education (see chart). The top three disciplines for associate’s degrees were liberal arts, business, and health professions.Although college enrollment is up, the high-school dropout rate among Hispanics remains grim – 30 percent for ages 16 to 24 in 1998. That figure is more than double the rate for African Americans (14 percent) and more than three times the rate for Anglos (8 percent), according to White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. Hispanics currently represent 13 percent of the school population in grades 9–12; that figure is expected to rise to 23 percent by 2030.
Jaime Chahin, dean of applied arts at Southwest Texas State University, notes that “a baccalaureate degree really gives you the ticket to the middle class.” So for more than half of Hispanic college students, enrollment in two-year schools may limit future income growth. He says improvement is needed in Hispanic students’ transfer rates from two-year to four-year institutions.
Some gender disparities are evident in the data on educational attainment. Middle-class Hispanic women who head a household are more likely than their male counterparts – 21 percent versus 19 percent – to have a bachelor’s degree, according to 1996–2000 Census data.
That finding helps deflate the stereotypical view that the traditional Hispanic family structure constrains women’s education, says Mr. Bean, author of “The Latino Middle Class: Myth, Reality and Potential,” a study commissioned by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute.
Mr. Bean’s study also refutes the common belief that education is valued less by Hispanics than by other ethnic groups. The study reports that the percentage of household income spent on higher education is about the same – 8 percent – for both Hispanic and Anglo families.
“To me, this expenditure of about the same fraction of household income on higher education suggests [Hispanics] value education just as much as anyone else,” he says.
The reason educational attainment is lower among Hispanics is not that they value it less, he continues, but that they have less money to spend on education and tend to have larger families, meaning less money per child.
The policy implications are clear. Low-income families need more assistance with college expenses. That’s where organizations such as the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) can make a crucial difference.
Sara Martinez Tucker, HSF president, says scholarships and other financial aid can help Hispanic students overcome deficiencies in the two greatest predictors of a student’s college enrollment – parental education and income.
“We’re proving we can find kids who don’t have those predictors [of higher educational success] and make them people who have the predictors for the next generation,” she says.
In fact, a study by Elias Lopez of California Polytechnic University concludes that “social capital” from home and school are more important than socioeconomic status in determining educational achievements, for both Anglo and Hispanic youth. Social capital refers to emotional encouragement as measured by involvement from parents, teachers, and guidance counselors. The study, published by the Julian Samora Research Institute at the University of Michigan, specifically found that reading and writing activities in the home translate into educational advancement.
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