White and Latino/a College Completion Gap Widens

More white adults are earning college degrees while Latino/a adults make less progress, a new report shows.
Published on August 16, 2023
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  • In the United States, 48% of white non-Hispanic adults have a college degree. For Latino/a adults, 25 and over, this number dropped to 28%, according to a report.
  • In 2020, the median salary of someone with a high school degree was reported to be $36,600, while the median income for a graduate with a bachelor's degree was $59,600.
  • Disparities in education like this directly impact the racial wealth gap.
  • To close the college completion gap by 2030, advocacy organizations suggest the United States invest in programs and initiatives that support Latino/a degree attainment.

White communities, Black communities, and communities of color all earn college degrees at different rates — with financial barriers, underresourced schools, societal biases, and other factors often affecting these outcomes.

But when white non-Hispanic adults earn degrees at almost double the rate of Latino/a adults, Excelencia in Education says something has to give. The Latino/a education advocacy organization's recent report highlights that the degree completion gap between Latino/a and white adults, 25 and over, is growing.

In the United States, as of 2021, 48% of white adults have a college degree, according to the report, while this number drops to 28% for Latino/a adults.

Despite recent questions about the value of a college degree, we are proof that a college degree makes a positive difference in the lives of individuals, society, and our country, Deborah Santiago, Excelencia in Education co-founder and CEO, said in a press release.

The data confirms that a national tactical plan must be implemented to intentionally serve Latino students to accelerate their degree completion while all communities increase.

In 2020, the median salary of someone with a high school degree was $36,600, while the median income of a college graduate with a bachelor's degree was $59,600, according to the 2022 National Center for Education Statistics' Report on the Condition of Education.

Disparities in education are directly correlated with the racial wealth gap. Education is a key component of economic wellness.

Factors That Led to the College Completion Gap

According to a study in the National Library of Medicine, many factors contribute to the college completion gap between white and Hispanic/Latino/a communities.

Hispanic children of immigrants may experience socioeconomic disadvantages and difficulty navigating the complex U.S. school system. Pew Research reveals that 31% of Hispanics are children of immigrants, and 36% are born outside of the U.S. Some Hispanic students may attend schools that lack the tools to adequately prepare them for college.

Unfortunately, Latino/a students also experience bias and discrimination in the classroom. A study funded by the National Task Force on Early Childhood Education for Hispanics found that kindergarten teachers consistently ranked Hispanic students as lower achievers than white students, even when academic tests proved otherwise.

On top of that, schools mistakenly enroll many Hispanic students who speak English as a second language in remedial classes, limiting educational opportunities and advancement.

Excelencia in Education's study found that graduation rates for Latino/a students are 5 percentage points lower than white students at two-year institutions and 13 percentage points lower than white students at four-year institutions.

Inclusive Programs Boost Hispanic and Latino/a Student Success

Excelencia in Education specifically calls out two programs that work for Latino/a students.

The Latino Promise and Hispanics Achieving College Education Recognition (HACER) Programs primarily serve first-generation Latino/a college students and demonstrate the positive impact of multifaceted support.

The Latino Promise and HACER programs support students through bilingual coursework, financial aid workshops, personalized academic advising, and more. The data reveals that these programs work. Since 2010, the Latino Promise has boasted a 40% graduation rate from its associate program, which is more than double the graduation rate for Hispanic students in New Jersey, where the program is located.

Located in Middle Tennessee, the YMCA Latino Achievers Program empowers youths ages 14-21 to attend four-year universities. Through college tours, SAT/ACT prep, mentoring support, and financial aid, this program ensures that students have the skills to attend the college of their choice. In 2018, 98% of the graduates of the Latino Achievers Program attended college.

Closing the White and Latino/a College Completion Gap

According to Excelencia in Education, institutions and organizations that seek to increase the graduation rates of Latino/a students should consider bolstering support in the following areas:

  • Mentorship Support: Providing students with mentors who understand and identify with their cultural experiences can help mitigate bias within educational settings.
  • Bilingual Coursework: Offering courses in both English and Spanish is a great way to help ensure that language does not act as a barrier to scholastic growth.
  • Financial Aid Support: Ensuring that Latino/a students and their families understand how to navigate the complicated financial aid process is imperative.
  • College Readiness Programs: Underresourced schools may not be able to adequately prepare Latino/a students to attend college. College readiness programs work to close this gap.

Excelencia in Education Co-founder and President Sarita Brown notes that by closing the college completion gap, the country will meet national workforce needs.

Our country will thrive if we intentionally serve Latino students while serving all, Brown said in a press release.

We are proud to work with a national network of forward-thinking institutional leaders who are demonstrating what is possible when it comes to accelerating Latino student success in higher education. Each has made common cause with Excelencia by committing to transforming their institutions to become places where Latino students thrive. In doing so, they are ensuring America's future.