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Low Graduation Rates Among Hispanics Provide Key Target for Education Reform

Hispanic students graduate from college at a lower rate than white students at all levels of college selectivity, according to a new report from the American Enterprise Institute using data from 600 colleges.

This may not be anything new, but as The Chronicle of Higher Education points out, this study could help the Obama administration guide its attempts to reform the education system:

The report, “Rising to the Challenge: Raising Hispanic Graduation Rates as a National Priority,” comes at a time when the Hispanic population in the United States is rapidly growing and the academic success of Hispanic students is seen as crucial to meeting President Obama’s goal that the nation have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

The report questions whether the United States can achieve the president’s educational goal, given the overall low college completion rates of the growing Hispanic population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 37 percent of the 44 million Hispanic U.S. residents are under the age of 20, and by 2020, Hispanics will make up 22 percent of the nation’s college-age population.

“These are the students who are going to replace the baby boomers, and who we will rely on to drive our economy over the next several decades,” said Hilary Pennington, director of education, postsecondary success, and special initiatives at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The report found that 51 percent of Hispanics students attain a bachelor’s degree within six years compared to 59 percent of white students at the same schools. The report doesn’t touch on the number of Hispanics, compared to white students, entering college.

A central problem, the study shows, is one of information: Hispanics often lack knowledge about the cost of college, and they are often “undermatched,” enrolling at colleges that are less selective than they are qualified to attend.

Obama’s education plans aim to address this information gap. Over the weekend, the president unveiled his blueprint for national education reform. His plan calls for college and career preparation instead of just handing out more diplomas, and it would give incentives to states that adopt standards for college preparation and accountability measures.

From the report:

Reforms that help to disseminate information about which schools are within students’ reach, both financially and academically, and which schools have a successful track record with Hispanic students could lead to a better match between the qualifications of Hispanic students and colleges and universities. This would in turn increase graduation rates.

Without higher retention and graduation rates on the part of Hispanic students–who will make up an increasing share of the college-age population in the years to come–the country will be hard-pressed to reach the goals set out by Obama.

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