ERIC Identifier: ED357911
Publication Date: 1993-03-00
Author: Chahin, Jaime
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Hispanics in Higher Education: Trends in Participation. ERIC
THIS DIGEST CONSIDERS trends in the participation of Hispanics in higher
education from 1980 to 1990. Educators at all levels (including elementary and
secondary schools) need to understand the circumstances of improved educational
attainment among members of this increasingly influential population.
The Digest first examines participation rates in overall demographic context
and then examines the importance of the K-12 experience. Then it considers
trends in enrollment and degree completion. The discussion concludes by drawing
implications from the data and recommending measures to help improve related
practice in both K-12 and higher education.
COLLEGE PARTICIPATION RATES IN DEMOGRAPHIC CONTEXT
college participation rate is the most important indicator of the status of
Hispanics in higher education. This Digest considers participation in terms of
current enrollments and degrees awarded. The discussion illustrates trends, in
most cases, by comparing 1979 or 1980 data with 1990 data. Two sorts of
participation rates are considered: (1) changes in absolute numbers and (2)
changes in the share of Hispanic participation. By both measures, as the
analysis will show, Hispanic participation is improving markedly.
Interpretation of these data, however, requires some consideration of overall
demographic context. Although participation is growing, the Hispanic share of
participation (enrollment and degrees) is still far less than the Hispanic share
of the general population. Indeed, evidence suggests that the proportion of all
Hispanic youth attending college has declined. The total number of Hispanic
college-aged youth (those aged 18 to 24 years) increased by 35.2 percent between
1980 and 1990 (Garcia & Montgomery, 1991). Nonetheless, the enrollment of
this cohort in higher education declined to 16.2 percent in 1990, down from its
1975 high of 20.4 percent (Snyder & Hoffman, 1992, Table 173; cf. Carter
& Wilson, 1992). The trend among all non-Hispanic whites in this cohort is
quite different--an increase to 36.8 percent in 1990 from 27.4 percent in 1975.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE K-12 EXPERIENCE
Rendon and Nora (1988) note that improving the level of educational
attainment among Hispanics requires attention to the K-12 experience.
Improvement will most fundamentally require sustained efforts to increase the
high school graduation rate, though this increase is not sufficient in itself.
In 1991, 183,740 Hispanics graduated from high school, an increase of 31.2
percent over the 1985 figure (Western Interstate Commission for Higher
Education, 1991). In some parts of the nation, particularly the South and West,
increases of up to 65 percent by 1995 are likely (Carter & Wilson, 1992).
The commission projects that Hispanics will account for nine percent of all high
school graduates by 1995. These figures could represent low estimates, however,
if the rate of high school completion among Hispanics increases from the
previous 10-year average (among the lowest for all ethnic and racial groups) of
57.4 percent (Carter & Wilson, 1992).
In 1975, 30.1 percent of Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in higher
education, as compared to 31.3 percent of white non-Hispanics. In 1991--the
latest year for which data are available--28.2 percent of Hispanic high school
graduates were enrolled in higher education, as compared to 41.0 percent of
white, non-Hispanic high school graduates (Snyder & Hoffman, 1992, Table
173). Thus, Hispanics' high school graduation no longer appears to improve their
chances of participation to the same extent as among white non-Hispanics.
Such observations mean that concern for the improved participation of
Hispanics in higher education cannot be limited to college and university
faculty and administration. It is a major challenge for K-12 educators as well.
The challenge is not simply a matter of increasing the rate at which Hispanics
graduate from high school: improving the quality of students' K-12 experiences
appears to be a key issue.
According to the U.S. Department of
Education (Snyder & Hoffman, 1992, Tables 193 and 194), overall enrollment
in higher education grew by about 13.4 percent (to 13,710,000 students
nationwide) between 1980 and 1990. During the same time period, Hispanic
enrollments in higher education grew by 60.7 percent, to about 758,000 students
(or 5.5 percent of total college enrollment, as compared to 3.0 percent in
The overall trend, however, can be analyzed further by participation in
different types of higher education programs. The focus, below, is on changes in
the Hispanic share of total enrollment from 1980 to 1990 (all data from Snyder
& Hoffman, 1992, Tables 193 and 194):
two-year programs: 5.7 percent of total enrollment (1980), versus 8.1 percent
four-year programs: 3.0 percent of total enrollment (1980), versus 4.2 percent
graduate programs: 2.6 percent of total enrollment (1980), versus 3.2 percent
professional schools: 2.4 percent of total enrollment (1980), versus 3.9 percent
Between 1979 and 1990, the number of
degrees conferred by colleges and universities in the U.S. increased by about
12.5 percent (to 1,926,635). During this period, the number of degrees conferred
on Hispanics increased by almost 50.9 percent (to 65,863, or 3.4 percent of the
total, as compared to 2.5 percent of the total in 1979). In terms of the
Hispanic share of degrees conferred, the overall trend breaks out by type of
program as follows (Snyder & Hoffman, 1992, all data from Tables 246, 249,
252, 255, and 258):
two-year programs: 4.1 percent of the total (1979), versus 4.9 percent (1990);
four-year programs: 2.2 percent of the total (1979), versus 3.1 percent (1990);
graduate programs (masters level): 1.9 percent of the total (1979), versus 2.5
graduate programs (doctoral level): 1.3 percent of the total (1979), versus 2.1
percent (1990); and
professional schools: 1.9 percent of the total (1979) versus 3.4 percent (1990).
The absolute number of Hispanics enrolled in
and completing higher education increased substantially from 1980 to 1990 (up
60.7 and 50.9 percent, respectively). Share of enrollment and degree completion
is another indicator of participation trends. Relative to their 1980 share of
total enrollment, Hispanics increased their participation by about 80 percent in
the last decade (3.0 percent to 5.5 percent). On the same basis, increases in
the share of degrees actually completed by Hispanics (between 1979 and 1990)
were more modest (about 36 percent), as the preceding data also show (2.5
percent to 3.4 percent). Degree completion, therefore, is a major concern.
Hispanics now comprise nine percent of the total U.S. population and about 12
percent of the cohort aged 18-24. Seen in this light, the trend data also
establish the fact that Hispanics have not participated in higher education in
anything like their proportional representation in the general population.
If one accepts the proposition that all groups in society (e.g., ethnic,
racial, and socioeconomic groups) ought to participate in higher education at
rates equal to their presence in the general population, then Hispanics--like
many other groups--are clearly "underrepresented" in higher education. Recent
studies have cited several critical influences that might be responsible for
this circumstance (Carter & Wilson, 1992; Holtzman, 1992; Quality Education
for Minorities Project, 1990; Rendon, 1992; Stamper & Reeves, 1985; Wilson
& Melendez, 1985):
inadequate preparation and elevated dropout rates among Hispanics at the
rising cost of postsecondary education, coupled with reduced levels of financial
assistance for low-income students and families;
concentration of Hispanics in poorly funded urban elementary and secondary
low transfer rates from two-year to four-year programs and from four-year to
graduate and professional programs.
A society that sought to include all
citizens in meaningful and productive roles in both public and private life
would cultivate the intellectual capacities of all students well. On this basis,
fuller participation of Hispanics in higher education would seem to be important
for the common good of the nation. The following recommendations relate to major
points illuminated by the trend data:
elementary school faculty should encourage high educational aspirations among
Hispanic students from an early age (Hodgkinson, 1985);
schools and districts should develop and implement effective plans to improve
the high school completion rate of Hispanic students (QEM, 1990);
high school faculty (including counseling and guidance staff) should challenge
Hispanic students to undertake stronger academic programs (Carter & Wilson,
schools and districts should provide more widely accessible information about
college planning to Hispanic students and their families (Rendon, 1992);
secondary schools, community colleges, and institutions with four-year degree
programs should collaborate to recruit and retain Hispanic students for higher
education programs (Rendon & Nora, 1988);
community colleges and institutions with four-year programs should collaborate
to facilitate the transfer of Hispanic students from two-year programs (Rendon
& Nora, 1988); and
higher education agencies should establish special programs--such as the New
Jersey Academic Careers Program or the Rutgers Minority Advancement Program--to
help enhance Hispanic participation in doctoral programs (see Clague, 1990, for
Educators need to recall Hodgkinson's (1985) assertion that our educational
institutions--from elementary schools to universities--are "all one system."
Though some progress is clearly evident, educators in both K-12 and college
settings can take steps to cultivate Hispanics' fuller and more successful
engagement in postsecondary studies.
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