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Report: Low Hispanic College Completion Rates Endanger U.S. Attainment Goals

WASHINGTON – Examining college performance across the range of U.S. higher education, a new study of college graduation data by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) reveals that Hispanic students graduate at lower rates than their White peers across similarly ranked colleges, from the nation’s least selective to its most selective institutions. Even many federally designated “Hispanic-Serving” Institutions are graduating fewer than 50 percent of their Hispanic students, and, nationally, 51 percent of Hispanic students who begin college finish a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 59 percent of White students, according to the new report.

The study, Rising to the Challenge: Raising Hispanic Graduation Rates as a National Priority, reflects the concern held by national policymakers and researchers over academic achievement among the emerging U.S. Hispanic population and the implications for the nation’s future. Study authors Andrew P. Kelly, Kevin Carey, and Mark Schneider concluded that colleges and universities that perform well in graduating their Hispanic students usually have high completion rates across the board. The results suggest that institutional commitment to college completion drives higher graduation rates for all students, including minorities.  

When the study’s researchers investigated graduation rates among similarly selective colleges and universities, they found significant variation in Hispanic graduation rates, indicating that, though student background is important, institutional practices also play a role.

“This data shows quite clearly that colleges and universities cannot place all of the blame on students for failing to graduate,”  according to a statement by Kelly, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “Colleges struggling to graduate their Hispanic students should learn from the successes of leaders like Whittier College, which has successfully closed the gap between its Hispanic and White students.”

Researchers used data from the U.S. Department of Education to examine graduation rates. The schools are grouped by how selective they are in admitting students—noted in six categories ranging from “noncompetitive” to “most competitive,” as determined by the popular Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges.

While many colleges and universities have a lackluster record of graduating their Hispanic students, the report also uncovers many schools that appear to be beating the odds.

“Schools that say ‘we just don’t have the resources’ aren’t trying hard enough,” said Dr. Sharon D. Herzberger, president of Whittier College, which routinely graduates more than 60 percent of its Hispanic students, outperforming most of its peers. “If we can achieve the outcomes we do with our modest endowment, so can many others.”

Rising to the Challenge was funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This AEI report on college graduation rates was preceded by Diplomas and Dropouts (June 2009), which documented an alarming variation in graduation rates across more than 1,300 American colleges and universities.

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