The Role of Latino/as in Achieving the 2020 National Degree Attainment Goal

Andrés Castro Samayoa, Kerry Madden & Karla Silva

Andrés Castro Samayoa, Kerry Madden & Karla Silva

A recent report by Excelencia in Education reveals the critical role that Latino/as play in achieving Obama’s goal to become the nation with the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.  The reports states that, in order to achieve this goal, 5.5 million more Latino/as need to earn a degree by 2020.

Latino/a Youth
Deborah Santiago* and Emily Galdeano Calderón, the report’s authors, highlight how Latino/as account for a substantial segment of the nation’s younger population, thus requiring important consideration from institutions and policymakers invested in making positive inroads towards improving the nation’s degree attainment. For example, the report states that the median age for Latino/as is 27, whereas the median age for Whites is 42. Similarly, Latino/a youth represents 22% of the nation’s K-12 population. To be able to work towards Obama’s goal, it is important that initiatives take into account Latino/as’ performance throughout the entire educational pipeline, from K-12 through college.

Measuring Latino/a Success
In addition to Latino/as’ representation amongst U.S. youth, the report provides three metrics to track the closing equity gap in college completion: graduation rates for first-time, full-time first-years; completion per 100 full-time equivalent students; and completions relative to the population in need. Across these metrics, Latino/as lag behind between 4-9% when compared to Whites. As their report states, “none of these measures capture the entire ‘story’ of equity in degree completion,” yet, by providing different metrics, Santiago and Calderón remind us that policymakers and institutional leaders cannot rely on a sole metric to gain a definitive panorama of the complex educational landscape in this country.  Nor can increasing the critical mass of Latino/as in higher education be sufficient to reach Obama’s outlined goals.  It is clear that if the United States intends to reach this educational benchmark, an educational model mindful of Latinos/as’ specific needs must be adopted.

Questioning the role of for-profit institutions
Unsurprisingly, the report’s data reiterates what many of us know: Texas, Florida, and California are key states in educating Latino/as given their large Latino/a populations. All of the institutions conferring the most bachelor’s and/or associate’s degrees to Latino/as are found in one of these three states.  The University of Phoenix stands out as the sole for-profit institution in the midst of these three states’ public institutions’ accomplishments.  Conferring over 2,500 Bachelor’s and over 2,400 Associates to Hispanics, the University of Phoenix is one of the Top 5 institutions conferring degrees to Hispanics. Surprisingly, these numbers represent less than 10% of the total degrees conferred by the University of Phoenix. Although this institution’s conferral of degrees makes a contribution to the nation’s aspiration to increase the proportion of college graduates, one must wonder whether institutions like the University of Phoenix are doing a disservice to its students given that
over a quarter of its graduates default less than three years after they begin repaying their loans. 

Excelencia in Education’s report reiterates the importance of race-sensitive approaches to ensuring the nation’s success in achieving Obama’s 2020 goals. At the same time, their data invites us to consider whether obtaining a degree necessarily means that these students are equipped for success. If a for-profit institution that disproportionately contribute to the nation’s student debt becomes one of the primary providers of degrees to Hispanics, it is evidence that we have a long road ahead before achieving sustainable financial and social prosperity for Latino/a graduates. Merely providing access to college for Latino/a students is not enough:  students need the resources and support to both complete their degrees and aspire to a life that is unhindered by debilitating debt after graduation. Ensuring that these concerns are also part of the conversation is critical if we aim to fully achieve Obama’s 2020 goal.

*Deborah Santiago is a member of the Penn Center’s For Minority Serving Institutions’ Advisory Board.

Andrés Castro Samayoa is a research assistant at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions and Ph.D. student in higher education at Penn’s Graduate School of Education. Kerry Madden received her Master’s Degree in higher education from Penn’s Graduate School of Education in Spring 2014. Karla Silva received her Master’s Degree in higher education from Penn’s Graduate School of Education in Spring 2014 and was also a research assistant at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. 

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