Hispanic students may have the most room to grow when it comes to college completion
Posted July 24
Sometimes breaking down and connecting statistics in a graph tells us things that are easy to miss. For example, this series of graphs published in EducationNext suggests that it should be relatively simple to get more Hispanic high school graduates to graduate from college.
The graphs, put together by the Washington, D.C.-based Fordham Institute, show three key college numbers over time.
The top line, always signficantly higher than the rest, is the percentage of students who "begin" college. The next line shows the percentage of students "proficient" on 12th grade reading and math tests, based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP scores. The third line shows the percentage of students who start college and finish their bachelor's degrees within eight years.
The graph is repeated for each of the main demographic groups, though in the demographic breakdowns the NAEP scores are only for math.
A few things jump out.
First, far more students begin college than are qualified to do college-level work. This is a key conversation in its own right. As the Baltimore Sun noted last week, thousands of high school graduates nationwide end up taking remedial courses at the gates of college, and far too many of those get stranded on those reefs.
Another interesting highlight in the Fordham graphs is that black high school diploma holders get college degrees at higher rates than the NAEP scores would suggest. That is, a higher percentage of black students finish college degrees than were college-ready when they graduated high school.
With a hat tip to Harvard education professor Marty West, Fordham President Mike Petrilli cites a 2006 research paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research for the likely explanation, which is that workplace discrimination makes college degrees relatively more important for blacks than for whites.
“Education is generally a more valuable signal of productivity for blacks than for whites," the authors of the NBER paper wrote. "As a result, blacks invest more heavily in the signal and get more education for a given level of ability.”
On the other hand, far more Asian-Americans complete college degrees than tested prepared for college. Petrilli follows traditional practice in attributing this anomaly to traditional values in Asian cultures.
But the most useful data point, which Petrilli focuses on, is the growth potential in the Hispanic group.
Hispanics, Petrilli notes, "appear to be the group for which the 'completion agenda' has the greatest potential. As of the class of 2006, one in four Hispanic students who were ready for college didn’t complete a bachelor’s degree. Higher education reformers might find such students and do all they can to get them across the finish line."