Closing the Latino-White Completion Gap
As Congress gets ready to tackle the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, a new Ed Trust report shows the need to prioritize completion rates for students of color
WASHINGTON — While more Latino students are enrolling in four-year colleges and universities than ever before and graduation rates are on the rise, only about half of Latino students who start college earn a bachelor’s degree. Today, White young adults, ages 25 to 34, are two and a half times (43.7 percent vs. 17.8 percent) as likely to hold a bachelor’s degree as Latino young adults. As Congress begins to rewrite the Higher Education Act, a new report by The Education Trust shows a need to prioritize improving outcomes for Latino students and highlights colleges that are leading the way.
The report, A Look at Latino Student Success: Identifying Top- and Bottom-Performing Institutions, indicates that nationally, the graduation rate for Latino students at four-year colleges and universities is 10 percentage points behind their White counterparts (53.6 percent and 63.3 percent respectively). It concludes that eliminating the national completion gap between Latino and White students requires simultaneous work from our nation’s higher education leaders on three fronts: 1) closing institutional gaps between Latino and White graduation rates; 2) improving overall graduation rates at colleges and universities that enroll significant numbers of Latino students; and 3) ensuring more Latinos attend selective institutions with high graduation rates.
“Far too many Latino students still don’t have access to the higher education they deserve,” said Andrew H. Nichols, Ph.D., Ed Trust’s director of higher education research and data analytics and author of the report. “Equitable completion rates are possible. All college and university leaders must take their responsibility seriously to provide students with the support they need to earn their degrees, while leaders at selective institutions, where Latino students are grossly underrepresented, need to put their resources to work to increase their enrollments of Latino students.”
The report identifies 10 top-performing institutions that based on three-year averages have low completion gaps and higher graduation rates for Latinos than similar colleges. This list includes Whittier College, a private institution outside Los Angeles, and the University of South Florida – Main Campus, a public institution in Tampa, FL. At these institutions, over two-thirds of Latino students complete bachelor’s degrees (71 percent at Whittier, 66 percent at USF), and Latino students graduate at even higher rates than White students at those institutions.
Still, there are many colleges that must work to better serve Latino students. About 15 percent of the four-year colleges in the study have extreme graduation rate gaps of 15 percentage points or more between White and Latino students, while others have unacceptably low graduation rates for Latino students. The report identifies seven bottom-performing institutions where, based on three-year averages, graduation rates for Latinos are too low and gaps between Latino and White students are at least 10 percentage points wider than for similar colleges. Among the institutions that must improve are Northeastern Illinois University, a public institution outside Chicago, which graduates fewer than 18 percent of Latino students who enroll, and Hofstra University in New York, which has a Latino graduation rate that lags far behind its peers and trails that of White students by nearly 15 percentage points.
A Look at Latino Student Success also presents pairings of institutions that should have similar outcomes, but differ markedly in their ability to support Latino students to graduation. For example, the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) and California State University (Cal State) Fullerton are both large, public, Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) with comparable levels of Latino and low-income students. Both institutions are moderately selective, with similar average SAT scores among entering students. But UTSA has a graduation rate for Latino students (just 33.7 percent) that is nearly 24 percentage points below that of Cal State Fullerton (57.5 percent).
The report also takes a closer look at HSIs, which are colleges and universities that enroll at least 25 percent Latino students. The study found that, when compared with institutions that have students with similar levels of academic preparation, HSIs have slightly higher graduation rates and smaller gaps. Still, even HSIs only graduate about half of their Latino students and need to improve their rate of success.
“Our findings make clear that colleges and universities have a lot of work to do if they want to fulfill their public purpose to serve as engines of social mobility for all students, including Latino students,” said Wil Del Pilar, Ph.D., vice president of higher education policy and practice at The Education Trust. “As members of Congress contemplate changes to the Higher Education Act, they need to take a close look at what successful colleges are doing and provide resources, support, and a system of accountability to help lower-performing colleges get dramatically better at serving low-income students and students of color.”