Excelencia Reports America’s Future Tied to Latino College Graduation Rates

First, some background. President Obama set a goal in 2009 known as the American Graduation Initiative. It proposes that by the year 2020 America will lead the world again in higher education by increasing community college graduates and certificate completers. To reach this goal, the federal government has strengthened Pell Grants, simplified the application for financial aid and created competitive grants to improve and expand reforms that have been effective.

The initiative is a response to the latest international figures showing America slipping from first place to 12th place in degree completion among 36 industrialized nations. The initiative states that jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as those requiring no college experience. The plan to reform our nation’s community colleges calls for an additional five million community college graduates by 2020. President Obama described new initiatives to increase the effectiveness and impact of community colleges, raise graduation rates, modernize facilities and create new online learning opportunities. He said, “These steps – an unprecedented increase in the support for community colleges – will help rebuild the capacity and competitiveness of America’s work force.”
Deborah Santiago, co-founder and VP of policy and research, Excelencia in Education, and Patrick Callan, founding president, National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, are co-authors of Ensuring America’s Future: Benchmarking Latino College Completion to Meet National Goals: 2010 to 2020, published in September 2010.
Santiago and Callan say that currently in the United States 39 percent of adults aged 25 to 64 have earned an associate degree or higher, and with expected growth at the current rate, by the year 2020, 44 percent will have a two-year degree or higher. In contrast, Canada, already the world leader in college degree attainment, will be at 50.8 percent by 2020. To pass Canada by the target date and once again lead the world, America would have to produce an additional 13.3 million degrees by 2020.
That goal cannot be reached without closing the White-Hispanic achievement gap in higher education attainment. The report says that while all groups will need to increase college degree attainment to meet the president’s goal, the target cannot be reached without improving Hispanic degree attainment.

Proportional Distribution of Racial Groups in the Educational Pipeline

Note: Percentages are from total White, Latino and Black students and do not include other racial groups. Sources: U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey, October 2008; NCES, IPEDS, 2008 Headcount and Completions Files.

Latinos now have the lowest college completion rates of any group. According to the U.S. Census in 2008, only 19 percent of Latino adults had earned an associate degree or higher. The Census shows White degree attainment at 39 percent and Black attainment at 28 percent. For Asians in America, 59 percent had earned an associate degree or higher in 2008.
With the demographic shifts in our population and the great increase of Hispanics in America, educating this group is critical to our standing in the world not only in terms of education but also in terms of the global economy. By the year 2020, Latinos are projected to represent about 20 percent of the 18- to 64-year-old population. In 2008, Latinos made up 15 percent of the American adult population.

Current Disparities in Degree Production Associate and Bachelor’s Degrees Awarded per 1,000 18- to 29-Year-Olds (2007-08)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, October 2008; NCES, IPEDS 2007-08: Completions Final Release Data File.

The young Latino population will grow even more rapidly. The projections for 2020 put Latinos at 25 percent of the American population aged 18 to 29 years old. At the same time that we see this growth in the Latino share of the population, we also see that competitive jobs in the U.S. will increasingly require postsecondary education. For these reasons, increasing the number of college graduates overall must focus on improving Hispanic students’ degree-completion rates or the nation’s goals will never be met.
Excelencia in Education, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, contributes to the nation’s challenge by focusing on young adults generally and Latino students in particular.
To inform policy and practice in higher education and thereby create a kind of roadmap, Excelencia plans to release an update on progress towards college degree completion each year from 2010 to 2020. This will bring attention to the national college completion agenda, and Excelencia will disaggregate projections by race/ethnicity, to work toward eliminating education attainment gaps among groups.
The report provides informative snapshots showing the current condition of Latinos in education. Looking at the education pipeline, Latinos make up 21 percent of ninth-graders but only 13 percent of high school graduates. Then again, there is a drop-off of Latinos in college. While 13 percent of Latino high school graduates enroll in college, only 11 percent earn a certificate, a two-year or a four-year degree.
Contrast Latino attainment with that of White students. The percentage of White students increases along the education pipeline – a greater percentage of White students makes it through high school and completes college (See “Proportional Distribution of Racial Groups in the Educational Pipeline”).

Current Disparities in Degree Production Associate and Bachelor’s Degrees Awarded per 1,000 25- to 64-Year-Olds (2007-08)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, October 2008; NCES, IPEDS 2007-08: Completions Final Release Data File.

Degree completion clearly shows attainment gaps between Whites and Hispanics, but it is markedly sharper for young adults 18 to 29 years old, the traditional college age, than for all adults 25 to 64 years old. Compare the graphs for “Current Disparities in Degree Production Associate and Bachelor’s Degrees Awarded per 1,000 18- to 29-Year-Olds (2007-08)” with the same graph for 25- to 64-year-olds for the same year.
Among college-age adults (18- to 29-year-olds), the White-Latino gap was almost 27 percent, the difference between attainment for Whites in this age group (49.1 percent) and Latinos (21.7 percent). The gap between Whites and Latinos for the all-adult category (25- to 64-year-olds) was about 5 per-cent; the difference between Whites, 14 percent; and Latinos, 8.9 percent.
The Excelencia report tracks the progress of degrees awarded by state for the last three years as well as nationally. These data are crucial for lowering education attainment gaps.
The report states that the increase of undergraduate degrees earned nationally from AY 2005-06 to AY 2007-08 was 6 percent. Further, in that three-year period, Hispanics had the largest growth in undergraduate degrees (12.5 percent) earned by any demographic group.
The data show that of this total Hispanic degree growth, in 2008, 60 percent of the additional degrees earned for Hispanics clustered in three states –California, Florida and Texas. Over the next 10 years, there will be continued significant Latino population growth in these states. Indeed, California and Texas are projected to become majority minority population states by 2020. In raw numbers, California is expected to see a population growth of eight million Latinos; and Texas, a 1.3 million Latino population growth over the next decade.
And as these states’ Latino populations expand, they will see their college populations increase because 80 percent of Latinos stay in state to attend college.
Thus, the focus on California, Florida and Texas is crucial for these two reasons – they will experience some of the largest increases in the Hispanic population, and the majority of college-age Hispanics will stay in state for college.
The increase in Hispanic students’ degree attainment in California, Texas and Florida might be attributed in part to an increase in enrollment numbers. Additionally, these states might be showing positive effects of state initiatives, as in the case of California. (Colleen Moore and Nancy Shulock at the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at California State University-Sacramento discussed California’s model for narrowing attainment gaps in a report titled Divided We Fail: Improving Completion and Closing Racial Gaps in California’s Community Colleges, October 2010.)
Looking at the top 10 states with increased undergraduate degrees conferred on Latinos and for all races/ethnicities from 2005 to 2008, California leads the way with an increase for Latinos of 8,605; Texas fol-lows with 4,436; Florida, 3,932; Arizona, 828; Illinois, 739; New Jersey, 679; Massachusetts, 568; Pennsylvania, 559; Virginia, 545; and Colorado, 542. These represent percentage increases ranging from 6.6 percent in Illinois to 28.3 percent in Virginia.
The report provides tables of the most recent public data available not only on graduation rates, but also degree completions per 100 FTE stu-dents, the equity gap in completion for Latinos and Whites for the nation, analysis of degree completion data for the top three states mentioned above, and degree completion data analysis for a host of other selected states. All these metrics can help guide our nation in its effort towards general expansion of degree completion and the more specific goal of eliminating race/ethnicity gaps in educational attainment.
Ensuring America’s Future by Increasing Latino College Completion is an initiative that brings the public’s attention to the role Latinos play in meeting the nation’s college degree completion role. How exactly will the challenge be met?
There are many stakeholders that will continue to play a role: community-based and national organizations in education, business and the work force, Latino advocacy groups, media, and high-level postsecondary and public policy leaders.
Excelencia’s initiative analyzes data that benchmark national and state-level Latino college degree completion. It can use its unique national position to engage stakeholders at national, state and institutional levels in deliberations geared toward implementing an outcomes-driven plan promoting effective policies and practices in education.
According to the report, accelerating Latino college degree attainment involves four basic requirements: intentionality in serving Latino students; delineation of degree completion goals and measures of progress; commitment to practices and policies that produce positive results; and clarity about the federal, state and institutional policy environments that affect Latino student success.
The competitive/education-based global economy and the demographic changes in America necessitate producing more earners of certificates and two- and four-year degrees in general, and greatly increasing certificate and degree completion among Latinos.
The full report is available online at www.edexcelencia.org/research/EnsuringAmericasFutureBenchmarking.