By Anthony P. Carnevale
Latinos have made major gains in college enrollment and completion in past decades. As they have moved toward closing the gap in higher education, they have seen higher earnings in the workforce. With improved access to selective colleges, Latinos should have better chances of earning college degrees and succeeding in the workforce.
Latinos have made significant progress in K-12 educational achievement, which has translated into growing representation in higher education. When Latino students earn above-median math scores in high school, their chance of attaining a college degree within 10 years is 24 percentage points higher. Since 1980, the Latino college-going rate has more than doubled, growing at a faster pace than that of Whites and Blacks. The share of college-age Latinos enrolled in college grew by 21 percentage points, while Blacks’ enrollment grew by 16 percentage points and Whites’ enrollment grew by 15 percentage points.
Not only are more Latinos going to college, but more are completing their degrees. Between 1980 and 2015, Latinos’ bachelor’s degree attainment rate nearly doubled. Despite this progress, however, Latinos still lag behind their peers in completing college. The biggest gap exists between Latinos and Whites: among 25- to 30-year-olds, 17 percent of Latinos had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 38 percent of Whites. Even among students with similar test scores, Latinos are less likely to earn a college degree than their White or Asian peers.
This graduation gap likely results from Latinos’ disproportionate attendance at overcrowded and underfunded open-access colleges that have fewer resources to help them succeed. Latinos are severely underrepresented at selective public colleges and universities, where they are only 12 percent of students, even though they represent 21 percent of the college-age population. This matters because open-access colleges have much lower graduation rates, only 51 percent, compared with an 85 percent graduation rate at selective colleges.
It’s not that more Latinos aren’t qualified to attend selective colleges. In 2014, 341,000 Black and Latino high school seniors scored above average on college-entrance exams. Only 19 percent of these students enrolled in selective colleges, however.
Increased support throughout K-12 and the college admissions process has the potential to propel more Latino students into selective colleges. This in turn could give them better chances of completing college degrees. Progress in educational attainment is especially valuable for Latinos because it raises their earnings even more than it does for Whites. The earnings boost for a bachelor’s degree over a high school diploma is 78 percent for Latinos and 59 percent for Whites.
These policy recommendations could help bolster Latinos’ progress in education and the workforce:
- Address racial segregation and discrimination that affects Latinos throughout the K-12 pipeline.
- Expand academic interventions before kindergarten and continue them throughout K-12.
- Improve high school counseling to ensure students receive the resources they need to pursue higher education.
- Reduce the barrier of standardized test scores in college admissions to ensure more qualified Latinos gain access to selective colleges.
Dr. Carnevale is Director and Research Professor of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute affiliated with the Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy that studies the link between education, career qualifications, and workforce demands.