Latino Youth Finishing College: The Role of Selective Pathways

  • June 24, 2004
  • By Richard Fry

The gap in the number of Latino and white college students who graduate with a bachelor's degree is wider even than the very substantial differences in high school completion and constitutes the greatest disparity in educational outcomes between the nation's largest minority group and the white majority. This report assesses the dimensions of the gap in bachelor's degree completion between Latinos and whites and some of the factors that contribute to it by focusing on the differing fates of young people who graduate from high school with similar levels of academic preparation. It finds that at several key junctures Latinos fall behind whites with similar qualifications.

A lot of attention has focused on the very serious problems of high school dropout rates among Latinos and the comparatively poor reparation received by many Latino high school graduates. This report, using newly available data, focuses on Latinos who both complete high school and are prepared on graduation to embark on a post-secondary pathway that could lead to a bachelor's degree. It finds that the gap in white/Hispanic bachelor's degree completion could be substantially closed if these well-prepared Latino youth attended the same kind of colleges as similarly prepared whites and graduated at the same rate. Instead the study finds that well prepared Latinos attend post secondary institutions that are less selective and have lower BA completion rates than similarly prepared whites and that even when well-prepared Latinos go to the same kind of schools as their white peers, they have lower graduation rates.

In order to better understand the disparities in college attainment, the Pew Hispanic Center commissioned an analysis of newly available data from a U.S. Department of Education survey that tracked a nationally representative sample of some 25,000 youth from the time they were in the eighth grade in 1988 until 2000 when most were 26 years old. The National Educational Longitudinal Survey (NELS) collected detailed information from academic records so it is possible to assess the quality of the high school education that students received and then follow their performance through the college years. These data allow us to compare college outcomes for equally well-prepared high school youth of different racial and ethnic groups.