After a record turnout at the polls on Election Day, Latinos are all over the headlines. But a major challenge Hispanic Americans are facing isn't garnering the same amount of attention: Just 14 percent of Latinos age 25 and up were college graduates as of 2011. That puts them behind Asian Americans (51 percent of whom are college grads), whites (34 percent of whom are college grads) and blacks (20 percent of whom are college grads) in educational attainment, Delaware Online reported Saturday.
Considering that 80 percent of new workers in the U.S. labor force will likely be Latino in 2050, it's vital that more Hispanics earn bachelor's degrees. As Richard Fry, a Pew Hispanic Center researcher told Delaware Online: "In a growing economy we will need extra workers. And more than half of the new workers employers will work with will be Latino. Without a four-year college degree, they are going to have a difficult time in those upper-echelon managerial jobs."
So, why don't Latinos graduate from college at the same rate as other groups? There's the fact that public schools remain heavily segregated by race and class. Brown and black children in particular are more likely to attend failing schools with inexperienced teachers. Delaware Online points out that immigrant Latinos may not know how to navigate the public education system, resulting in their children not taking the SAT or applying for financial aid for college while in high school.
The good news is that just as Hispanics are voting in record numbers, they're enrolling in college in record numbers as well.† Last year they made up 16.5 percent of college students, a jump of more than 5 percent since 2006, Fry reports. In 2011, 76 percent of Hispanics graduated from high school, the highest percentage to ever do so.
It's in the nation's best interests for Hispanics to continue making headway in academia. Our country won't be able to compete with others if our labor force is uneducated and unskilled. So, this isn't a Latino problem so much as it as an American problem. Perhaps the politicians vying for the Latino vote after President Barack Obama's reelection on Nov. 6 can discuss how they intend to prevent Latino students from being left behind. While immigration reform is an important issue to the Latino community. It's far from the only issue. Polls reveal that Hispanic Americans care about the economy more than anything else.† Without education, however, it will be difficult for Latinos to improve their 10 percent unemployment rate and weather another economic crisis. By some estimates, Latinos lost more wealth during the recession than any other group. Closing the education gap might have produced an entirely different outcome.