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Celebrate Latino High School Graduation, but Work Toward College Degree Attainment

Every high school graduate is one more member of society who can contribute economically, socially and politically. It’s especially true for every college graduate, particularly among students underrepresented in higher education. A college degree can break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, lead to employment and homeownership, amongst other outcomes, including, “stand[ing] out in other things we value. They are more likely to vote, to volunteer, to have healthy life practices, and even to have better mental health” according to congressional testimony by Kati Haycock former CEO of the Education Trust. Ultimately, high school and college graduation makes America more globally competitive and embodies our values positing that the pursuit of happiness should be for all.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

“Hispanic high school graduation rates at all-time high” made recent headlines from NBC reporting on data published by John Gramlich at Pew Research Center. The data found that the, “Hispanic dropout rate was 10 perent in 2016” compared to “just five years earlier, the rate had been 16 percent.” And most noteworthy, the rate of college enrollment among Hispanic students has risen as well, from 32 percent in 1999 to 47 percent in 2016 according to the reporting at Pew. While there is much to rejoice, there’s a drastic chasm in college graduation from 4-year colleges among Hispanics and other racial and ethnic groups. This is the next iterative step in closing the opportunity gap, ensuring equity in higher education and securing a prosperous future for our country, especially as we undergo drastic demographic change according to recent US Census Bureau reporting.

Only 15.5 percent of Hispanic students aged 25 or older earned a bachelor’s degree, according to data collected from the Current Population Survey and published by the U.S. Census in 2015. It’s even starker when you contrast with the 41 percent of whites and 63 percent of Asians who graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

As evident by overcoming countless social, economic, health and environmental issues, a systems-wide, collective, substantive and consistent effort must be undertaking to continue closing this unacceptable gap. And, there is not one entity or group to hold at fault. It’s a job that requires federal, state, local, private and public institutions to coalesce around a common purpose to ensure that all groups operate on a level playing field to have the opportunity of transforming their lives and that of the communities they come from. No one is asking for handouts, lowered expectations or social engineering, all underrepresented students need is a fair shot at the American dream, because it is in all our best interests that every American succeeds.

Alex Serna is a Program Director for Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano, a nonprofit with the mission to support highly motivated, but underserved students become the first in their families to graduate college. He earned his B.A in American Studies from UC Berkeley, later enrolling at UCLA where he received his master’s degree in urban education.

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