Policy Issue: Educational Disparity Among Hispanics
Hispanics and Higher Education
As the Hispanic population is rapidly approaching the distinction of the largest minority group in the United States, concern over academic gaps between Hispanics and whites continues to grow. Despite their growth, Hispanics were still the most undereducated demographic in the United States in 2003, with just 11 percent of Hispanics over the age of 25 earning a bachelor degree or higher. This discrepancy becomes more than a basic disparity in education; it becomes a policy concern as a larger percentage of the population in the U.S. is unable to find employment that helps them contribute to the economic needs of the country while supporting their families independently.
Reasons for Educational Disparities among Hispanics
There are many potential factors attributed to educational disparities among the Hispanic population, including:
- Lower Incidence of Literacy Activities Before School:Studies show that Hispanic families are less likely to participate in literacy activities with their children before those children reach school age. This is true regardless of the income level of the Hispanic family, although lower-income families across all races are less likely to initiate these types of activities. This puts Hispanic children in low-income families at an even larger disadvantage, particularly in families where parents do not speak English in the home. Literacy activities are primarily comprised of reading to children regularly or visiting the local library.
- Poor Academic Performance throughout Primary and Secondary Grades:Hispanic students are likely to be trailing other children in mathematics and reading by the time they enter kindergarten. Studies indicate that non-Hispanic white children are more likely to know letters, sounds and even sight words when they begin school. Hispanic children were also less likely to recognize numbers and shapes – early indications of math competency. The achievement gap persists throughout the public school years, all the way into high school. Unfortunately, this could account for the high dropout rate among Hispanic high school students, which currently stands at around 23.8 percent.
- Lack of Hispanic Teachers in Public Schools:Another factor impacting the academic success of Hispanic children is a lack of quality role models within the schools. With few Hispanic teachers on staff, non-Hispanic white teachers often face challenges in relating to their minority students on the same level. Lack of understanding about cultural differences means teachers have greater difficulty in connecting with and engaging these students – a significant factor in student success.
Hispanic Student Success at the College Level
When students do not do well academically during the primary and secondary years, the chances of them making it into higher education are much lower. Even Hispanic students that do enroll in college find many obstacles in their path to earning a degree. Statistics show that only 51 percent of Hispanic students that enroll in college earn a bachelor degree within six years. That number contrasts with 59 percent of non-Hispanic white students that manage to earn a bachelor degree within that same time frame.
The good news is that there are steps that can be taken to increase the odds of success for Hispanic students in higher education today. The first step is to recognize the challenges Hispanic students face on a college campus, which might include:
- Financial restraints that do not allow Hispanic students to focus on their studies
- Lack of commitment by colleges to completion of all students
- Lower incidence of Hispanic faculty on many college campuses nationwide
- Government funding for colleges based on enrollment numbers, rather than student success
Colleges must recognize the growing Hispanic student population, and take steps to ensure those students are as successful as their white counterparts. There are schools across the country that have closed this achievement gap, by directly addressing the needs of their Hispanic student population. Another positive step has been the addition of many scholarship programs designed specifically for Hispanic students, through the following organizations:
- The Hispanic College Fund
- Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute
- Hispanic Scholarship Fund
- Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities
In addition, a number of organizations offer scholarships for specific fields of study, such as engineering or health care. This financial assistance frees Hispanic students to focus on their schooling, without worry over how the bills will be paid. Through these resources, as well as a growing awareness of the need to serve a growing Hispanic student population at colleges nationwide, the hope is that Hispanic students will become an integral part of this country’s higher education system and competitive workforce in the future.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Nonprofit organization offering support and funding for a variety of philanthropic projects, including education.
Hispanic Scholarship Fund: Provides scholarships to Hispanic students in an effort to increase the number of Latinos in higher education.
National Education Association: Professional organization dedicated to the work of advancing public education.
National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): Office of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Remington College Community Outreach Program: Provides information on Hispanic education, including statistics and barriers Hispanics face in higher education.
National Hispanic Leadership Agenda: Established in 1991, this organization works for unity within the Hispanic community.
National Center for Education Statistics: Statistics for degrees earned, according to gender and race.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute: Provides financial assistance to Hispanic students in higher education.
Hispanic College Fund: Provides financial assistance to Hispanic students who wish to attend college.
U.S. News and World Report: Offers listing of scholarships available to Hispanic students.