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More Hispanic Students Finishing High School

MIAMI – A higher percentage of young Hispanic adults is finishing high school, and the number attending a two-year college has nearly doubled over the last decade, according to recently released Census data.

The percentage of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in high school and don’t have an equivalent degree was 22 percent in 2008, down from 34 percent in 1998.

Meanwhile, the number attending a two-year college increased 85 percent, from 540,000 in 2000 to 1 million in 2008.

“It’s an amazing level of growth,” said Kurt Bauman, chief of the Census Bureau’s education branch.

Researchers said the numbers on high school completion were the result of several factors, including targeted efforts to reduce the number of Latino students dropping out as well as an increasing percentage born and attending all their schooling in the United States.

But several experts also expressed concern that high numbers are choosing two-year colleges, where students tend to have lower completion rates and frequently do not go on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Jose Cruz, vice president for higher education policy and practice with the Education Trust, pointed to studies that show a majority of Latino students aspire to earn a bachelor’s degree, but noted they are overrepresented in two-year institutions. He attributed the gap to issues of K-12 preparation, insufficient counseling and the overwhelming financial contribution low-income families must make in order to attend a four-year institution.

Frank Alvarez, president of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, himself a community college graduate, said many students fail to finish an associate’s degree because they find themselves inadequately prepared and lacking guidance once they make their way into the system.

“If you’re going to community college because it’s less costly, or because it’s the option that’s closest to you, there’s nothing wrong with that, but please continue to a four-year school,” Alvarez said.

The Census report contained a number of other education indicators, including data on early education and demographics. The number of students enrolled in kindergarten has increased from 2.9 million in 1978 to 4 million in 2008. Higher numbers also are going to full-day instead of part-day programs.

Among nursery school students, Hispanic students made up 18 percent, an increase of 5 percent from 1998.

Deborah Santiago, vice president for policy and research at Excelencia in Education, said the findings on high school completion should be celebrated, though she cautioned there was still significant work to be done targeting dropout factories and increasing college readiness.

“What this does is create an opportunity to think about the population even more clearly as a college-going community, as a community that does have educational success,” Santiago said.

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