The Washington, D.C. based group Excelencia in Education has released a report which shows that just 16% of Californian Latinos have college degrees compared with 39% of all adults in California. The study, authored by Deberoh A. Santiago, shows that the college gap is a potentially serious problem for California where 38% of the population is Latino. Across the state, 50% of grade school students are Latino, and this figure rises to 75% for students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Santiago says that a focus on education for Latinos is timely due to the comparatively young age of the Latino population. California's median age for its Latino population is 27, mirroring the nationwide median of 27. By comparison the median age of white residents in California is 38 and this figure rises to 40 for the national populous.
"It will be impossible for the U.S. to meet its future societal and workforce needs if Latino educational attainment is not substantially improved," said Dennis Jones, president of the Colorado-based National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. "If Latinos are not part of the success story then the U.S. itself does not have a success story."
Last year, only 21% of Latinos nationwide had attained an associates degree or higher. This compares with national averages of 57% of Asians, 44% of whites and 30% of black people.
The Latino population boom isn't just a California phenomenon; Latinos also represent at least half the K-12 population in the nearby states of Texas and New Mexico.
In Florida, home to the nation's third largest Hispanic population, only 31% of Hispanics aged between 25 and 64 have an associates degree compared to 37% of all Floridians in the same age group.
"The United States cannot retain its international competitiveness unless we improve Latino college completion," U.S. Rep. Charles Gonzalez, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a prepared statement.
"While there are things we must do in Washington to advance this cause, this is an issue that requires leadership at all levels – from school boards to statehouses across America," said Gonzalez, of Texas.
Florida is, however, one state that has been working towards narrowing the education gap. The report shows that the number of Hispanics within the state who possess undergraduate degrees rose by 13% in the 2006-2008 period, almost double the 7% increase for students from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Excelencia in Education aims to accelerate higher education success for Latino students by providing data-driven analysis of the educational status of Latino students and by promoting education policies and institutional practices that support their academic achievement.