A great milestone has been reached: for the first time in our nation’s history, young Hispanic people have become the largest minority on college campuses across the nation, with 2 million Latino students ages 18 to 24 enrolling in two-year and four-year college institutions in 2011, making it a record 16.5% share of enrollment. At the same time, the Hispanic school population in pre-K through 12th grade is now for the first time one-quarter Latino, up from 23.3% in 2010.
The Pew Hispanic Center, which is attributed with having conducted and released this information, estimate that in the next few years the high school population will also reach that mark. With about 52 million people, Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States; that, coupled with rapid growth have been the main contributors to an increased student base.
There has been a significant increase in number of Hispanics aged from 18 to 24 since 1972 when there were merely 1.3 million compared to our current figures that amount to 6 million individuals, with 76% of those finishing high school. Yet while high school completion rate has risen three percent since 2010, both high school and college graduation rates continue to be far behind those of other groups.
Due to the fact that the Hispanic demographic is ever increasing and becoming a more imposing population group, it is imperative that they continue to attain higher levels of education. The college graduation rates of Latinos will be a major role in the nation’s mission of becoming a world leader in college completion by 2020—a project that is dear to President Obama who is helping propel it through administrative initiatives. In order to meet Obama’s goal by the end of the decade, Hispanic students will need to earn an estimated 5.5 million degrees or certificates. It goes without saying, however, that there are major socio-economic factors that greatly inhibit Hispanics from having access to college and having a higher graduation rate therein. “Over 40% of Latinos who enrolled in college are the first in their family to go to college. And so you already have issues not just of enrollment but persistence to completion that require academic support,” said Deborah Santiago, co-founder of Excelencia in Education, a Washington D.C. based education research organization.
Another problem that Hispanics face is that the majority of those who earn degrees do not do so in fields with strong hiring prospects or high-earning potential. And given the fact that our nation’s labor market will remain relatively weak for some time, this may lead students to graduate with mountains of debt in student loans whose search for employment may become particularly difficult, thus, adding to the unemployment rate. In order to prevent this, it is important that Hispanics be stimulated to pursue degrees that are high in demand so as to align them more with our workforce needs. All in all, however, the outlook for Latino education and employment is improving. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, one in four babies born in the U.S. are Hispanic, projecting that by 2036 Hispanics will compose one third of children ages 3 to 17. With such a striking figure, now more than ever, it is important for the “illegal” question to be taken out of the equation. Our nation is grand in size and might, and as a leader in the world, we need top-notch individuals to help carry us forth so as to remain competitive leaders. A surplus in uneducated youngsters would be highly detrimental to the economic and societal vision we have set up for ourselves.
We need to stimulate this group of young people and give them a shot at success, otherwise the chances for success of our own will be greatly shot down.