More US Latinos entering college

U.S.-born children of Hispanic immigrants are nearly as likely as whites to enroll in college, but less than half as likely to earn bachelor’s degrees, according to a report released Thursday.

“There are large numbers of Latinos who are enrolled in college,” said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, which issued the report, “but who for a variety of reasons don’t reach a degree.”

For policymakers who want to increase the number of Hispanics with college degrees, those students should be the targets, Suro said.

“They’re already on campus and enrolled. The problems that are keeping them from graduation are not overwhelming.” The report by the nonpartisan research group suggested several possible reasons for the disparity: Hispanics are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be enrolled part time or at two-year schools, could be the first in their families to attend college and may have been more likely to attend underperforming high schools.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey from 1997 to 2000, the report found that about 42 percent of second-generation Hispanic high school graduates ages 18 to 24 attended college, compared to 46 percent of whites in that age range.

Second-generation Hispanics were more likely to go to college than foreign-born Hispanics, who had a 26 percent enrollment rate, or third-generation or later Hispanics, who had a 36 percent enrollment rate.

But only about 16 percent of second-generation Hispanic high school graduates ages 25 to 29 received a bachelor’s degree, compared to about 37 percent of whites in that age range, the report said. The report “underscores that Latinos very much want to go to college, and that we are enrolling in college,” said Sarita Brown, president of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Institute in Washington. “It heightens the attention on the potential for success in college.”

Brown, who is Hispanic and was the first in her family to attend college, said Hispanic students are failing to graduate because they lack adequate financial aid.

Among the study’s findings:

* About 75 percent of 18- to 24-year-old college students were enrolled in college full time, compared to 85 percent of whites. About 40 percent attended two-year institutions, compared to about 25 percent of whites.

* Fewer Hispanics pursued graduate and professional degrees. Among 25- to 34-year-old high school graduates, about 1.9 percent of Hispanics were enrolled in graduate school, compared to 3.8 percent of whites. Gregory Staff, a recent Hispanic graduate of the University of Virginia, said he hoped to go to law school, but finances make it tough. “I would like to attend law school in the near future,” he said, but “heavy debt I have acquired, as well as the desire to assist my family financially, makes it difficult to attend.”

College enrollment among Hispanics also varied by ethnicity and generation. Cuban high schoo graduates 18 to 24 had the highest rate, 45 percent, while Puerto Ricans had the lowest, 30 percent. Hispanic educational progress will affect the nation’s economic health, the report predicted.

Over the next 25 years, the white working age population is expected to decrease by about 5 million, but the number of working-age Hispanics is projected to rise by 18 million, the report said, citing Census Bureau data. “This is where our extra workers are going to come from,” said Richard Fry, author of the report. “It’s vitally important for our nation’s workforce that young Latinos” improve their graduation rates.