How the Dismal Latino College Completion Rate Hurts America

Given the Latino population boom, a 19.2 percent college completion rate represents social and economic suicide for America.

Boosting the college graduation rate of the next generation of students is an economic and social imperative trumpeted by everyone from President Obama to top CEOs. But according to a new College Board report, the education crisis in the Latino community could keep the nation from reaching its goals.

According to the report, only 19.2 percent of Latinos between the ages of 25 and 34 had earned an associates degree or higher—less than half the national average of 41.1 percent and the lowest of any major racial or ethnic group. Given the boom in the Latino population—they now account for one in six Americans and are the largest minority group in K-12 schools—the nation's education system has a ton of work to do prepare Latinos for higher education as well as for social and economic prosperity.

The report suggests 10 steps to solve the problem, including simplifying the financial aid system and ensuring colleges give more need-based financial aid to students. The authors found that only 39 percent of Latino three- and four-year-olds were enrolled in preschool or kindergarten programs between 2006 and 2008, which leads them to conclude that there's an urgent need for free early childhood education programs. With access to ECE programs, students are more likely to enter elementary school equipped with the basic reading and math skills they need—making it less likely that they will fall behind.

The report also concludes that middle and high school counseling must improve. Latino students face a significant "information gap" regarding the "course work and academic preparation necessary to plan for and transition to college." Researchers found that schools with majority minority student populations have 628 students per counselor, far above the 250:1 ratio recommended by American School Counselor Association.

Of course, with budget cuts decimating school counselor positions and early childhood programs, its unlikely that school systems will address those needs anytime soon. Cuts are already threatening the recent boom in Latino enrollment at community college. California, which has the nation's largest Latino population, had to turn away 150,000 students in 2010 because they didn't have the space for them. Budget cuts are a reality, but governments have to do something—America faces social and economic suicide if the ever-growing number of Latino students don't have the resources to keep them in school.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user America Redefined

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