ERIC Identifier: ED480917
Publication Date: 2003/10/00
Author: Fry, Richard
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, Institute for
Urban and Minority Education
Hispanics in College: Participation and Degree Attainment.
Latinos lag every other major population group in attaining college
degrees, especially bachelorís degrees (Vernez & Mizell,2002). This
partly reflects the difficulties Hispanic youth have in completing high
school and the influx of adult less-educated Latino immigrants, but the
outcomes of Latinos in postsecondary education require attention as well.
Large numbers of Latinos are enrolled in postsecondary education. In
fact, by some measures, a greater share of Hispanics is attending college
than non-Hispanic whites. However, most Latino undergraduates are pursuing
paths associated with lower chances of attaining a bachelorís degree. Many
are enrolled in community colleges, many also only attend school part-time,
and others delay or prolong their college education into their mid-20s
and beyond. Given the relatively high college enrollment rates of Latino
high school completers, improvements in the college persistence rates of
Latino youth would greatly increase the number of highly educated Latinos
and their participation in graduate and professional education. This digest
examines the extent and nature of Hispanic college enrollment in comparison
to that of other racial and ethnic groups.
College Entry and Participation
Hispanic youth that complete U.S. secondary education do not markedly
lag similar white youth in obtaining post-secondary education. By age 26,
Latino high school completers are as likely as white high school completers
to obtain some post-secondary education (NCES, 2002a). However, the timing
of entry into post-secondary education is consequential to degree completion,
and immediate entry into college may have a positive impact on college
completion. Seventy-one percent of Latino high school graduates immediately
enter postsecondary education, in comparison to 76 percent of white high
school graduates (NCES, 1997).
Nativity. Immigrant Latino high school completers are as likely
as second generation and third and higher generation Latino youth to immediately
enter post-secondary education (NCES, 1998). This applies only to immigrant
Latino youth that arrive sufficiently early in childhood to enroll in U.S.
secondary education. This result is consistent with immigrant Latino secondary
school outcomes. Immigrant Latino youth enrolled in U.S.schools are no
more likely to drop out of high school than native-born Latino youth (Driscoll,
1999). There are no generational differences in academic performance among
Latino high school students (Kao, 1999).
Ethnicity. Cubans have by far the highest rate of college attendance
of any Latino national origin group, with nearly 45 percent of 18- to 24-year-old
high school graduates enrolled. For Mexicans, the comparable figure is
33 percent and for Puerto Ricans, 30 percent (Fry, 2002).
Age. Colleges do not just serve young adults. Beyond "traditional
college age," i.e., beyond age 24, Hispanic high school completers are
more likely to be enrolled in undergraduate education than white high school
completers. Seven percent of Hispanic high school completers over the age
of 24 are enrolled in college at any moment in time, in comparison to 5
percent of similarly aged white high school completers (Fry, 2002). The
relatively high participation of older Latino high school completers in
college should be interpreted carefully. While indicative of the wide accessibility
of the U.S. post-secondary education system, one wonders why these adults
are pursuing college later in life. The greatest economic gains from college
clearly go to individuals that complete their education early in life.
Roughly 10 percent of Hispanic high school completers finish their schooling
with an associateís degree, similar to their white peers. Latino high-school-educated
youth, however, markedly trail their white peers in finishing a bachelorís
degree. Between the ages of 25 to 29, nearly 37 percent of high-school-educated
whites have finished a bachelorís degree, in comparison to 16 percent of
their Hispanic peers. There are no marked generational differences in bachelorís
degree completion among Latino high-school-educated 25-to-29 year-olds
Undergraduate Enrollment Patterns
Young Latino undergraduates attend college and universities differently
from their white peers.
Community Colleges. Both entry and enrollment data reveal that
Hispanic college students are concentrated in community colleges. About
44 percent of Latino 18- to 24-year-old undergraduates attend two-year
institutions compared to about 30 percent of white and African American
undergraduates in that age group (Fry, 2002). This high rate of enrollment
partly results from the geographic concentration of Hispanics in California.
However, outside of California, Latino undergraduates are also more likely
to enroll in community colleges than white undergraduates. There is no
substantial difference across generations in the share of Latino undergraduates
ages 18 to 24 who go to community college. The share is about the same
for the foreign born, 46 percent, as it is for the second generation, 42
percent. Hispanic enrollment in two-year colleges varies considerably by
national origin. Some 48 percent of Mexican undergraduates in the 18- to
24-year-old group attend two-year institutions compared to about 32 percentof
Puerto Ricans (Fry, 2002).
The concentration of Latino undergraduates in community colleges likely
contributes to the difference in bachelorís degree attainment between white
and Latino high school completers. Undergraduates aspiring to a bachelorís
degree are much more likely to obtain a bachelorís degree within six years
if they begin their education at a four-year college rather than a two-year
college. For example, 26 percent of recent high school graduates aspiring
to a bachelorís degree had a bachelorís degree within six years if they
began at a community college. Over 62 percent of similar bachelorís degree
aspirants had a bachelorís within six years if they began at a four-year
college (NCES, 2002b).
Enrollment Intensity. Hispanics are the least likely young college
students to be pursuing their studies full-time. Among 18-to-24-year-olds,
85 percent of white and African American students go full-time. Seventy-four
percent of similar Latino college students attend full-time. Degree completion
is associated with enrollment intensity. Among undergraduates beginning
post-secondary education at community colleges, 43 percent attained a post-secondary
credential if they were initially enrolled full-time (Fry, 2002). Among
similar undergraduates initially enrolled part-time, 30 percent completed
a post-secondary credential. Among undergraduates that began at public
4-year colleges, initial enrollment intensity had a marked effect. Of those
initially enrolled full-time, 57 percent completed a bachelorís degree.
Only 28 percent of those initially enrolled part-time finished a bachelorís
degree (NCES, 2002b).
College Persistence Factors
There are marked differences in some college persistence rates between
Hispanic undergraduates and white undergraduates. These differences are
prevalent mainly in the completion of bachelorís degrees. Regardless of
whether the undergraduate began at a community college or 4-year college,
the likelihood of obtaining an associateís degree or certificate seems
similar between Hispanic and white students. However, a wide gulf emerges
with regard to bachelorís degree attainment. Among undergraduates that
began at community colleges, 6 percent of Latinos and 12 percent of whites
had finished a bachelorís degree 6 years after starting college. If the
student began at a public 4-year institution, 56 percent of whites had
attained a bachelorís within 6 years of entry, but only 40 percent of Latinos
In analyses of college persistence, the U.S. Department of Education
identifies seven "risk factors" or undergraduate attributes that negatively
relate to persistence and degree attainment: delayed postsecondary enrollment,
part-time enrollment, not having a regular high school diploma, working
full-time, being financially independent, having children or dependents,
and being a single parent. There is little doubt that, in the aggregate,
Hispanic undergraduates are more likely to possess these "risky attributes"
than white undergraduates (NCES, 2002c). On each ofthe seven factors, Hispanic
undergraduates are more "at risk."This is not surprising since Hispanic
undergraduates tend to be older and are more likely to be "nontraditional
students." In fact, the persistence risk factors are identical to characteristics
identifying "nontraditional students." Whether the persistence risk factors
can account for the differences in specific college persistence rates between
white and Latino undergraduates remains to be documented.
Graduate and Professional Enrollment
Hispanics lag far behind in pursuing post-baccalaureate education. Among
25- to 34-year-old high school completers, 4 per-cent of whites are enrolled
in graduate or professional studies, buto nly 2 percent of Latinos (Fry,
2002). This can be accounted for largely by the gap in bachelorís degree
completion. Studies of the post-baccalaureate enrollment behavior of recent
college graduates reveal that about 17 percent of recent college graduates
pursue graduate or professional studies within a year of college graduation,
and there are no significant racial/ethnic differences in the likelihood
of further education (NCES, 1996). Latinos lag in graduate and professional
education, but that appears to be attributable to the fact that they lag
in bachelorís degree completion.
Heretofore, policy-makers and researchers concerned with Hispanic educational
achievement have focused most intently on issues related to primary and
secondary education, especially high school dropout rates. Those issues
are undoubtedly important. However, the successes and shortcomings of Latino
youth in post-secondary education should not be overlooked. Significant
gains can be made with policy initiatives targeted at Latinos who graduated
from high school, who applied for and were granted admission to a two-
or four-year college, and who enrolled. In other words, a great deal can
be accomplished by assisting young Hispanics who are trying to secure the
post-secondary credentials they need to improve their prospects but are
failing to do so in large numbers.
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