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Hispanics and Higher Education: Numbers Tell Conflicting Stories


June 1, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Hispanic Link News Service. All Rights Reserved.

Let the numbers speak for themselves.

It's an age-tested axiom. But it is counsel that leads you nowhere when talking about Hispanics and higher education. The numbers lead you in two opposite directions.

Representation Among all Undergraduates

(Millions)..Percentage of Total

Percentage of Total
Percentage of Total
Hispanics 1.4 2.5 10.6 15.4
Blacks 1.7 2.1 12.8 13.2
Asians 0.7 1.3 5.2 8.4
Whites 9.5 10.0 70.6 62.8
Total 13.4 16.0

A few days ago, the respected Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J., released a detailed study projecting that Hispanics will make up 15.4 percent of the nation's college undergraduates by 2015. That's up from 10.6 percent in 1995.

The groundbreaking ETS report, "Crossing the Great Divide,'' projected a remarkable 73 percent jump in Hispanic college enrollment. It calculated a rise from 1.4 million to 2.5 million Hispanic undergraduates on U.S. college campuses in that short period of time.

However, when ETS released its report on Capitol Hill on May 24, its principal author, Anthony Carnevale, accompanied by consultant Sonia Hernández, California's deputy education superintendent, projected another set of numbers.

"The population of 18- to 24-year-olds will grow much faster than those ready to go to college,'' cautioned Hernández.

The study warns of a widening gap between college-age youth -- who will represent 18.9 percent of all Hispanics -- and the 13.1 percent who will actually enroll in institutions of higher education.

"Our campuses will be missing 550,000 Hispanic undergraduates,'' the study projects.

Carnevale warned that between 1995 and 2015, the gap between Hispanics and other groups in the U.S. population attending college will actually expand from 5.1 percent to 5.8 percent.

By comparison, the negative gap will remain relatively stable for African Americans, edging from 2.5 percent to 2.6 percent, while the present "extra'' percentage of undergraduate Asian Americans will increase substantially -- from 1.9 percent to 3.1 percent.

White representation on the plus side will diminish from 5.6 percent to 4.1 percent.

In 2015, California, Texas, Florida and New York will account for two-thirds of the nationwide increase in college-age Hispanics. This is due, in large part, to a continued surge in immigration and to the number of "Generation Y'' births between 1982 and 1996.

One of six U.S. undergrads will be Hispanic, as Hispanics become the largest nonwhite group on U.S. university and college campuses.

Specific factors cited by the report as helping increase future Hispanic enrollment are better academic preparation, more older students returning to college and increasing numbers of Latino families that include college-graduate parents.

The report urges policymakers to address the disproportion in college enrollment for young Hispanics, who, Carnevale stressed, "are losing ground in terms of their fair share of university seats.''

Tuition hikes could increase the gap further, he said. About 43 percent of Hispanic families with three or more children have inadequate income, and for every $1,000 increase in tuition, 6 percent to 8 percent of the Hispanic population loses access to higher education, he projected. With the weight of tuition expenses falling on states and families, Carnevale asked, "Whose gonna pay for all these kids?''

In reaction, Jamie Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, cited to Hispanic Link the importance of such government programs as Pell Grants. "Failing to invest in those programs disproportionately impacts Hispanics,'' he said.

To ensure equal access to education, Sonia Hernández suggested early outreach and increased government spending. "The one million Latinos will be needing the greatest assistance,'' she said, adding, "Investing early will pay off in the long run. It's a must.''

According to the ETS projections, if Hispanics had the same education and commensurate earnings as non-Hispanic whites, state economics would gain considerably. Those states benefiting the most would be California and Texas, with $51 billion and $29 billion respectively.

The study also notes the Hispanic importance to this nation in the global economy. "To ensure that companies can create diverse work teams, especially teams of elite workers, more minorities must go to college and graduate. It is equally clear that affirmative action, in one form or another, will continue to be a necessary part of the overall strategy,'' it says.

Art Ruíz, federal affairs director for State Farm Insurance and is active in Hispanic business/higher-education alliances, commented at the press briefing, "This report verifies what business leaders have known for a while now. Diverse work teams are better problem solvers, more creative and better at meeting the needs of American businesses and their diverse global customers.''

Camilo Smith-Montealegre is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C. Reporter Monique Bhalla assisted in researching this story.

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