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Educación for Hispanics: Why the Urgency

Today, one in three jobs requires some post-secondary education and training beyond high school, and by 2020, workers with a post-secondary education are projected to hold 65 percent of all jobs. Given that Hispanics are the nation’s fastest-growing minority group among children, the educational gains of Hispanic students in the U.S. will have a profound impact on the future economic success of the country.

Last month, President Obama announced an investment of over $335 million aimed at Hispanic students. As we mark the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH), we should reflect on why it’s so critical to support Hispanic students in finishing high school and completing college.

Hispanics are making great strides in education

WHIEEH was established in 1990 to address the educational disparities in the Hispanic community. In the early 1990s, Hispanics made up just 8.8 percent of the total U.S. population, yet 30 percent of all those who dropped out of high school. Approximately 42 percent of Hispanic adults did not have a high school diploma, and only eight percent held at least a bachelor’s degree.

In the last three decades, the percentage of Hispanic children has more than doubled—one in four children, and 17 percent of the overall population in the U.S., is now Hispanic. At the same time, there have been dramatic educational gains by Hispanic children and their families. In the years since WHIEEH was established, nearly half of pre-school age Hispanics are enrolled in early care and education programs, math and reading scores have improved, high school dropout rates have declined by more than half, three in every four Hispanics have a high school diploma, and Hispanic college enrollment is at an all-time high.

Educational disparities in the U.S. persist

Despite these gains, many Hispanics continue to face barriers to educational attainment. Hispanic students continue to lag behind their white and black peers in school readiness and high school and post-secondary completion. For example, in 2012, roughly 57 percent of Hispanic children ages three to six could count to 20, compared with over 70 percent of black and white children. Among adults ages 25 to 29, roughly 16 percent of Hispanics earned a bachelor’s degree in 2013, compared with 20 percent of black and 40 percent of white students. Hispanics are also vastly underrepresented in STEM-related professions, which are simultaneously the fastest-growing occupations and have the highest demand for post-secondary education and training.

Hispanics contribute to the nation’s success

Educational disparities result in untapped economic potential in the U.S. and shrink the skilled labor market. Moreover, the data also show that boys and young men of color have a greater risk of poor academic performance, unemployment, and involvement in the criminal justice system than whites. Of particular concern is the low percentage of young men of color–12 percent of Hispanic and 21 percent of black men–who have a college degree before they are 30 years old, compared with 40 percent of white men.

This is, in part, due to long-standing gaps in educational opportunities for Hispanic students. For instance, one in four high schools with the highest percentage of Hispanic students does not offer Algebra II and other courses that promote labor market readiness and success in STEM fields. If black and Hispanic students studied STEM subjects at the same rate as their white peers, there would be an additional 3,800 STEM college graduates each year. In the face of a changing labor market and increasing educational demands to fill the jobs in that market, the need to recommit to issues facing Hispanic youth will only intensify.

Investing in the future

Child Trends’ Hispanic Institute is working to improve outcomes for Hispanic children and youth in the U.S. by harnessing the power of data. For example, we recently conducted an evaluation of Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, an initiative that works with Hispanic parents of young children to promote practices that foster children’s learning and development, parent leadership, and advocacy. Child Trends is also working on national estimates of health, educational attainment, and other well-being outcomes for Hispanic males across four developmental stages: early childhood (ages 0-5), middle childhood (ages 6-12), adolescences (ages 13-17), and young adulthood (ages 18-24).

These efforts have brought focus to the evidence base of practices to improve employment opportunities and the long-term upward mobility of Hispanics. The bottom line: there is still work to be done, and these gains can only be met with a concerted focus on the education of the Hispanic population; doing so is an investment in the future for all Americans.

Claudia Vega, Research Assistant


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