How Do We Meet the Challenge of America’s Hispanic Growth?

Last week saw considerable interest among educators in the report from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce – The College Payoff. For many of us, there were few surprises. Not only does education payoff, there are wide variations in earnings by occupation and wide variations within occupations.

But what some may have missed in conjunction with this report is how important its implications are in light of the nation’s changing demographics. In June, the U. S. Department of Education issued its report, Achievement Gaps. Based primarily on 2009 mathematics and reading scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the report made clear that, despite some improvement in scores for both Hispanic and white, non-Hispanic public school students, gaps in achievement for Hispanics are not closing. The two decade-old, documented math achievement gap is essentially unchanged with Hispanics’ scoring 21 points less in math in the 4th grade and 26 points less than white, non-Hispanics in the 8th grade. Like the math gap, the reading gap remains as well; Hispanic 4th graders scored 25 points less than white, non-Hispanics and Hispanic 8th graders scored 24 points less.

Why do these two studies matter in conjunction with one another? While there are variations in the payoff for college, the payoff, for whichever occupation an Hispanic enters, is likely to be less if we don’t address the need for improved performance in K-12 by Hispanics and increased access and successful completion of post-secondary education.

Between the 1990 census and the 2010 census, the U. S. Department of Education estimates a growth rate in the Hispanic population in the U. S. of more than 200%, growing from 22 million to 50.5 million. Although an increasing proportion of our population, Hispanics are less likely to enroll in post-secondary schools and less likely than whites, when they do enroll, to enroll in four-year institutions. In light of the performance gap in K-12, this may be no surprise. Addressing it is, however, critical.

We must improve the quality of the educational experience in K-12, and we must provide greater access to non-traditional post-secondary education. Our economic prosperity depends upon it.

One innovative solution to improving performance in K-12 is being undertaken by the State of Texas. Despite tough economic times, the State has allocated its education budget specifically for digital, e-Learning. Among the companies approved by the State is one that I am associated with – Adaptive Curriculum. Like a number of other approved options in Texas, Adaptive Curriculum offers math and science, but a distinction for Adaptive Curriculum is its engaging use of state-aligned activity objects in both English and Spanish. But even if the Texas solution does improve K-12, it will not be enough to address the challenge for our U. S. economic prosperity – even in this one state.

Colleges and universities will continue for the foreseeable future to find that Hispanic students, when they do enroll, disproportionately remain at-risk for post-secondary work. More than half of the students enrolled at for-profit and proprietary schools come from typically at-risk demographic groups like Hispanics and Blacks. Because of the enrollment patterns in for-profit and proprietary education by minority students, these schools represent a critically important channel to addressing the challenges of educating Hispanics for higher paying jobs and increased lifelong earnings.

The challenge, of course, is for proprietary colleges and universities to do what traditional colleges and universities have not done well – constructively addressing remedial education needs of Hispanic students, offering an environment that results in substantially higher student retention, and graduating students with high quality, market-driven skills and abilities. Perhaps it is no surprise that for-profit schools have faced considerable challenge in their ability to accomplish what society needs so badly from them. But Hispanic students depend for their success on these for-profit and proprietary schools – and our country’s economic prosperity depends upon it as well.

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