Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Boosting Hispanic enrollment increasingly urgent, Texas officials say

Also check out the THECB's report Closing the Gaps and Dr. Gandara's power point slides from her presentation.


Poverty, lack of health insurance, other social ills complicate the challenge.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hispanic enrollment at colleges and universities in Texas would need to almost double by 2015 to meet the state's higher education goals — a daunting challenge in light of high dropout rates, poverty and other problems facing the fastest-growing segment of the population.

That is perhaps the most troubling conclusion of a new report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on progress toward goals adopted by the state in 2000.

The coordinating board has long considered lagging Hispanic enrollment and graduation rates a major problem. But the staff-generated report, which board members approved at a meeting Thursday, sought to convey a new sense of urgency.

"Texas is not one of the highest-achieving states in terms of overall education attainment," said Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes. "And Hispanics are the lowest-achieving of the three major ethnic groups in Texas.

"There's a growing awareness that unless we significantly improve Latino educational attainment, Texas is going to decline even further in its educational attainment compared to other states and ... in its capacity for economic development and economic competitiveness," he said.

Officials pledged to address Hispanic achievement as well as shortfalls in technology-related degrees, research funding and other benchmarks in "Closing the Gaps by 2015," the state's set of goals for higher education. One of the goals is to have 5.7 percent of each major ethnic and racial group in the state to enroll in college.

The report found that Hispanic enrollment has grown at a faster clip than that of African Americans or whites, with 129,484 students added to college rolls since 2000, for a total of 366,878 Latino students last year, the most recent figures available. But enrollment would need to rise an additional 309,222 by 2015 to constitute 5.7 percent of that population.

"Too few Hispanic students graduate from high school," the report said, noting that only 54.2 percent of Hispanic seventh-graders in 1995 went on to graduate from a Texas public high school, compared with 61.3 percent of all students.

What's more, 59 percent of Hispanics who graduated from high school last year were eligible for the federal free- or reduced-price lunch program because of income. In contrast, 46 percent of African American graduates and 12 percent of white graduates were from low-income families. Low-income students are much less likely to enroll in postsecondary education and tend to be less prepared.

On a more positive note, the report said 5.4 percent of Texans were enrolled in public and private institutions of higher learning last year, up from 5 percent in 2000. The proportion of African Americans was the highest, at 5.6 percent.

A leading researcher of Hispanic educational achievement warned the board that it would be difficult to make sweeping improvements without addressing poverty, health insurance, a high proportion of unwed mothers and educational shortcomings that start early in life.

"Latino youth begin kindergarten far behind their peers," said Patricia Gándara, a UCLA professor of education. "Latino students require more investment by the state."

Texas' spending on kindergarten-12th grade education ranks 42nd in the nation, said Gándara, who is co-author of "The Latino Education Crisis: The Consequences of Failed Social Policies."

"We need to do a better job of making sure that the leadership of Texas recognizes that educational attainment occurs within a broader socio-economic context and that those socio-economic contextual factors have to be addressed in order for us to achieve our educational goals," Paredes said.

"Unhealthy children don't learn as well as healthy children do. Children who don't have health insurance and consequently can't get glasses and can't see well don't learn as well as children that do," he said. "We have to recognize that, yes, this will require investments. But the investments more than pay off in terms of economic benefits and overall quality-of-life factors."

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