Latinos in College: Closing the Graduation Gap

By: Kit Faiella, Policy Fellow

On April 17th, the Gallup Organization hosted a series of panels and speakers to discuss the closure of the Latino higher achievement gap in the United States. Before the presentation began, each audience member was presented with handouts which highlighted the facts and figures regarding the Latino population, and education outcomes in the United States:

  • 25% of the K-12 population is Latino, with the Latino population as a share of the overall population is supposed to continually increase year-over-year
  • 22% of Latino students earn an associate degree or higher, compared to 39% of all adults
  • 41% of Latinos graduate college in 150% of the time (4 years for a 2 year-program, 6 years for 4-year program), compared to 52% for whites

This framed the context of the discussions throughout the morning, which primarily focused on policy proposals by Congressmen to tackle the gaps and challenges being faced by Latino students.

The first theme was about academic success, led by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO). As a current Senator and former Superintendent of Denver Public Schools (DPS), he offered a unique perspective about the impact of federal-level policies on the local-level. As the Higher Education Act (HEA) will likely be considered in Congress this year, he offered his perspective on how the Act could enable greater student achievement for all students. He emphasized the importance of a college degree and obtaining a credential “north of a high school diploma.” An example of this credentialing included strenuous labor force training found in Career and Technical Education and Apprenticeship programs. He also suggested that Pell Grants could be used for continued training after college (and during summers in college). Overall, he said Congressional policies have little influence on the day-to-day of school districts, and felt that those policies typically had little impact on his focus and work in DPS. He left the audience with food for thought by suggestion that Congress needs to “stop treating children in public schools like somebody else’s children, and treat them like America’s children.”

Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) offered a perspective on infrastructure within schools to support college and career readiness. In this context, infrastructure does not mean physical structures, but rather the support systems to help students reach their goals. His proposal for the HEA mainly focused on college counselors and strengthening programs like the College Advising Corps. While outside the scope of the HEA, he suggested that Universal Pre-Kindergarten is a policy proposal both sides of the aisle can find agreement on. He left the audience with an interesting proposal regarding student debt, that schools with large endowments should help students relieve debt through loan forgiveness promises if the student completes school. A proposal he compared to financial aid on the front-end of the 4-year process, citing a critical need for something on the back-end. He did not indicate if he would be proposing this as part of the HEA.

The last speaker was Congressman Will Hurd (TX-28), who spoke about the Prosper Act, a proposed reform to the HEA which Congressman Hurd is involved with. The Prosper Act’s primary focus is to drive skills that enable students to be ready for the workforce upon school completion. He noted there are a few tweaks to it he would like to see, and he advocated for the expansion of the >GEAR Up program, touting its success in helping guide low-income youth from 7th grade through freshman year of college.

Overall, the Higher Education Act has not been renewed in almost a decade. It has been reauthorized year-over-year, but many in Congress agree that it is time for an update. Senator Bennet and Congressman Hurd both agreed that 2018 might be the year a new HEA is voted on – it came close to renewal prior to the 2016 election. In these early stages of the policymaking process, it is interesting to hear perspectives and proposals that lawmakers are working on as they gear up for rounds of negotiations. It is vitally important to recognize the impact (or lack thereof) of these policies on an America that may look very different demographically 10-20 years from now.

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