Latinos and Education: Explaining the Attainment Gap

Nearly nine-in-ten (89%) Latino young adults ages 16 to 25 say that a college education is important for success in life, yet only about half that number–48%–say that they themselves plan to get a college degree, according to a new national survey of 2,012 Latinos ages 16 and older by the Pew Hispanic Center conducted from Aug. 5 to Sept. 16, 2009.

The biggest reason for the gap between the high value Latinos place on education and their more modest aspirations to finish college appears to come from financial pressure to support a family, the survey finds.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of all 16- to 25-year-old survey respondents who cut their education short during or right after high school say they did so because they had to support their family. Other reasons include poor English skills (cited by about half of respondents who cut short their education), a dislike of school and a feeling that they don't need more education for the careers they want (each cited by about four-in-ten respondents who cut their education short).

Latino schooling in the U.S. has long been characterized by high dropout rates and low college completion rates. Both problems have moderated over time, but a persistent educational attainment gap remains between Hispanics and whites.

When asked why Latinos on average do not do as well as other students in school, more respondents in the Pew Hispanic Center survey blame poor parenting and poor English skills than blame poor teachers. The explanation that Latino students don't work as hard as other students is cited by the fewest survey respondents; fewer than four-in-ten (38%) see that as a major reason for the achievement gap.

This report was prepared for the Latino Children, Families, and Schooling National Conference sponsored jointly by the Education Writers Association, the Pew Hispanic Center and the National Panel on Latino Children and Schooling. The conference was held on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009 at the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C.

Read the full report Latinos and Education: Explaining the Attainment Gap on the Pew Hispanic Center's Web site.

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