Latino College Completion Rates Low Despite Enrollment

Image: Graduating students listen to U.S. President Obama speak during commencement at the University of Michigan

File photo of graduating students at the University of Michigan listening as President Barack Obama delivers commencement speech on May 1, 2010. KEVIN LAMARQUE / Reuters

Low rates of Latino college completion persist in states with high numbers of Hispanics, despite an narrowing of the gap in the graduation rates of traditional Latino and non-white Latino college students, according to a report released Tuesday.

The gap dropped to 9 percent in 2014 from 14 percent in 2012 among those who entered college as first time, full-time undergraduates, according to the report released Tuesday by Excelencia in Education.

But it's a different story when part-time students, which account for almost half of Hispanic students, are included. In California, home to the largest number of the country's Hispanics, only 15 percent of Latino students completed their undergraduate degree or certificate in the year 2010-11. In Texas, the number was 17 percent.

"It is an area of concern," said the report's main author, Deborah Santiago. "We have to focus on the institutions that are not just enrolling but graduating our students," she added.

At East Los Angeles College in California, about 24,000 Latino students enrolled in the year 2011-12, but only about 1,000 completed their Associate Degree that year. And although California has the highest number of Latinos, not one of its colleges were in the top five institutions awarding associate or bachelor's degrees to Latinos.

Low rates of college completion - especially at the community college level- do not just affect Hispanics. In Texas, when part-time students are taken into account, only 18 percent of non-Latino whites obtained a degree in 2010-11 academic year.

The difference is that in most states, there is still a very big gap between the number of Hispanic adults holding a degree compared to the rest of the population. Nationally, only twenty percent of Latino adults have a postsecondary degree, compared to 36 percent of all U.S. adults. In California, only 16 percent of Latino adults over 25 have an associate or bachelor's degree, compared to 38 percent of all adults in that age group. In Texas, it's 16 percent of Hispanics who hold a degree, compared to 32 percent of total adults those ages.

At the same time, more and more Hispanic children are entering the nation's schools. In California, Hispanic students make up over half of the K-12 population; in Texas, it's about half. At the national level, 22 percent of children in K-12 are Hispanic.

"We have an amazing opportunity to address how to better serve Latino students," said Santiago.

Some schools are showing a good track record, Santiago points out. Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, for example, ranked fourth in the state in enrolling Latinos, yet ranked second in awarding associate degrees. The University of Central Florida ranked fifth in enrolling Hispanics in that state but ranked second in bachelor's degrees awarded to Latinos.

The top five institutions awarding associate and bachelor's degrees to Hispanic students in the year 2011-2012 were in Florida, Texas and Arizona, but they also included the for-profit University of Phoenix-Online.

In order, Miami Dade College, whose student body is 67 percent Hispanic, and El Paso Community College, 86 percent Hispanic, topped the list for awarding Associate degrees, followed by the University of Phoenix-Online, South Texas College and Valencia College in Florida.

For Bachelor degrees, the top 5 were Florida International University, whose student body is 63 percent Latino, followed by the University of Phoenix-Online, The University of Texas at El Paso, the University of Texas-Pan American and Arizona State University.

In its state-by-state as well as Puerto Rico and District of Columbia data, Excelencia in Education report includes a list of "What Works" programs from its Growing What Works database, aimed at showcasing specific programs which are increasing Latino college completion.

"We remain focused on the fact that for the U.S. to regain the top ranking in the world for college degree attainment, Latinos will need to earn 5.5 million more degrees by 2020," said in a statement Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education.