Amid the ever-spreading presidential scandals, the country is focused on bad news in DC. So it is gratifying to report some good news nationally. The news is about a major improvement in Hispanic educational outcomes.
A report just released by the Pew Research Center shows that for the first time, a higher percentage of Latino high school graduates — an impressive 69% — is enrolling in college for this fall than are graduates identified as “white” (at 67%). Since the beginning of the 2008 recession, the percentage of Hispanic grads enrolling in college has steadily grown, while the percentage of whites has declined slightly.
More importantly, in 2011, the percentage of Latinos dropping out of high school hit a new low. Only 14% of Hispanics (aged 16 to 24) were dropouts, which is half the rate of a decade earlier (it was 28% in 2000). The dropout rate among whites also fell, from 7% in 2000 to 5% in 2011.
The Pew report suggests that this dramatic increase in Hispanic educational attainment is likely due to two factors. First, Hispanic families are increasingly cognizant of the fact that America has a completely knowledge-based economic system. A recent (2009) Pew survey found that nearly nine out of ten Latinos aged 16 or older agreed that a college degree is necessary to rise to the top in today’s economy, which is a much higher figure than that for the general population (of which only three out of four agreed with the proposition).
Second, the recent recession hit Hispanic youth harder than it did white youth. Since the recession started, unemployment among Latino youth (defined as ages 16 to 24) has gone up 7%, as opposed to only 5% among white youth.
Indeed, while the Pew report doesn’t note this, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data show with crystal clarity the correlation between educational attainment and unemployment. For example, the BLS records that the overall unemployment rate for the year 2005 was about 5%. But within that general figure was a wide difference among workers. For those with professional degrees, unemployment was a miniscule 1.1%; for those with doctoral degrees, it was only 1.4%; for those with master’s degrees, 1.7%; for those with bachelor’s degrees, 2.3%; for those with associate’s degrees (community college degrees), it was 3.0%; for those with a high school diploma and some college, 3.9%; among those with only a diploma, 4.3% — still below the national average unemployment rate for the year. But among workers with no high school diploma, it was 6.8%, or over a third higher than the national rate. Even in a boom economy, high school dropouts are dramatically more likely to be unemployed.
And in 2009 — a year when the unemployment rate was 7.9% — the BLS data show that the employment gap between those with little education and those with more only widened further. That year, the unemployment rate among workers with professional degrees was 2.3%; among those with doctoral degrees, 2.5%; master’s degrees, 3.9%; bachelor’s degrees, 5.2%; associate’s degrees, 6.8%; a diploma and some college, 8.6%; a high school diploma alone, 9.7%; and no diploma, 14.6%. This means that in a time of high unemployment, the unemployment rate among high school dropouts was nearly double the national average.
There is still work to be done to bring Hispanic educational attainment up to equality with that of whites. To begin with, while the Latino dropout rate has fallen by half during the last decade, it is still nearly three times the rate for whites.
Moreover, Hispanic students are still less likely than white students to enroll at four-year colleges, by a wide margin — 56% versus 72% — and are less likely to attend full-time, or graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
And of course, both Latinos and whites trail Asians when it comes to enrollment in college: recent Asian high-school grads are enrolling in college at an astonishing 84% rate.
Still, the Pew report is very welcome news. One hopes that the members of Congress still desperately fighting immigration reform will read it, and think it over.