"Education can be a catalyst to achieving a wide variety of goals," says University of Phoenix faculty member Dr. Chris Mendoza. Mendoza's life story is testament to that statement: Though he graduated high school reading at a "seventh or eighth grade level," through application and hard work he moved up the educational ladder, earning a college degree (University of Texas at El Paso, 1981), an MBA, and a doctorate in business administration (University of Phoenix, 2007). He is now a successful executive who heads the recruiting and marketing department for a division of a Fortune 200 financial services company.
Stories like Mendoza's are becoming more common as Latino immigrants come to the U.S., make a better living, and send their children to college. Though the situation is improving, Latinos still have yet to catch up to other ethnicities in educational achievement. Latinos are the least educated major population group in the nation, with Latino males only having an average of 10.6 years of schooling, compared with an average of 12.2 years for black males and 13.3 years for white males.1 Only 11% of Latinos ages 25 and over have a bachelor's degree, versus 29% of whites and 25% of other non-Hispanics.2.
The problem is not that Latinos are failing to attend college, or that they lack understanding of the value of an education. In fact, only Asian high school graduates attend college at higher rates than do Latinos.3 Nearly 9 out of 10 (88%) Hispanics ages 18 to 25 say that college is important for getting ahead in life, and 77% say their parents think going to college is the most important thing they can do after high school.4 The issue of concern is that too many Latinos are leaving college without earning a degree.
Also of interest is the fact that Latino women are outpacing Latino men in terms of educational attainment. In 2006, for example, only 41% of Latino undergraduates were male.5 This disparity is all the more startling given that the gender gap seems to be leveling off for males of other ethnicities.6.
In part, the difference in Latinos' and Latinas' educational achievement can be explained by the fact that more Latinas go back to school as adults (ages 25 and up). But many other factors-cultural, societal, and economic-intertwine to explain both the gender gap and why Latinos are not earning postsecondary degrees at a rate proportional to other ethnic groups. Many Latino Men Feel Pressure to Enter the Workforce Rather than Pursue a Degree.
Most Latino students are nontraditional students: Many are over 25, attend school part-time, opt for two-year programs rather than four-year ones, and have parents, children, spouses, or other family members to support.7 The selfsame factors that make a student nontraditional, however, have been identified as risk factors for degree noncompletion by the U.S. Department of Education.8.
And a large number of these students work while attending school, which may be one reason why they opt to attend school part-time. In many low-income or working-class immigrant families, young people feel a responsibility to contribute to the family's income as soon as they are old enough to work. A sizeable proportion of young immigrants drop out of high school in order to work full time. (Second-generation Latinos ages 16 to 19, in contrast, are four times more likely to be in school and not working at all than immigrants from their same age group.)9 Nearly three-quarters of 16- to 25-year old Latinos who had ended their education while in or shortly after high school say they did so in order to support their families.10 This emphasis on work may be one reason fewer Hispanic men than women attain college degrees.