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Records are meant to be broken

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Esther Cepeda
August 29, 2011
— Some people are never satisfied, even after hearing great news, and I’m perfectly content to admit I’m one of them.

The news is that the Pew Hispanic Center has just released data showing that the largest minority in America is finally starting to close the gap on educational attainment. Hispanics’ college enrollment jumped to an all-time high in October 2010: 32 percent of Latinos 18-24 are pursuing higher education. Fifteen percent of all young adults in two- or four-year colleges are Hispanic, now representing the largest minority group on college campuses and basically mirroring Hispanics’ share of the U.S. population.


This is a record showing for Latinos—24 percent growth from 2009—and one that is not due to mere population expansion but can be attributed to educational strides. For example, last February the College Board announced that Hispanic high school students represented 14.6 percent of high school seniors who passed a college-level competence Advanced Placement (AP) course exam, which is a greater share of those achieving a passing score than at any other point in the past decade.


So things are looking good, right?


Yes, but let’s look at the trifecta of higher education attainment: awareness, access and completion.


The Hispanic community has come a long way in awareness. Latino families have always valued education. But now families are realizing that “education” no longer means just a high school diploma and must entail a professional certification or an associate or bachelor’s degree.


In terms of access, the fact that more Hispanic high school graduates are attending college means that college aspirations, scholarship availability and extra emphasis on academic planning and readiness are also gaining traction. Sure, the 32 percent of Latinos enrolled in college lags behind 38 percent of blacks, 43 percent of whites and 62 percent of Asians, but we are witnessing real progress.


Still, completion is the final frontier. All the effort to make it through high school and go to college, regardless of whether it’s at a local two-year community college or a four-year university, means nothing if students don’t successfully complete degrees.


The National Center for Education Statistics says that in 2010, only 13 percent of Hispanic 25- to 29-year-olds had completed at least a bachelor’s degree. Compare that to 19 percent of blacks, 39 percent of whites, and 53 percent of Asians, and you’ll see that not only should college completion be a priority for all races, but it represents a continuing significant challenge for Latino students.


Pats on the back are well deserved for the countless organizations, institutions and individuals who have made college access for Latinos their mission—their push is working. But efforts moving forward must give as much importance to what happens after Hispanics get to college as they do to simply getting them there.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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