Latinos and Education: Explaining the Attainment Gap

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Nearly nine-in-ten (89%) Latino young adults1 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 Latinos by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.

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).

The Pew Hispanic Center survey finds that there actually are two different gaps in the educational aspirations of the young.

  • One is between Hispanic young adults ages 18 to 25 and the general U.S. population of that age group. Some 48% of the former group expects to get a college degree or more, compared with 60% of the latter group.3
  • But a second gap is even bigger, and it largely explains the first gap. It is between young Latinos who are immigrants and those who are native born. Less than one-in-three (29%) immigrant Latinos ages 18 to 25 say they plan to get a bachelor’s degree or more, half the share (60%) of native-born young Latinos who say the same.

In short, young immigrant Hispanics appear to have financial commitments that limit their ability to pursue more education, even though they see a college education as important for success in life.

  • According to data from the Census Bureau, 33% of Latinos ages 18 to 24 are enrolled in school, compared with 42% of all young adults ages 18 to 24. And according to results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Latinos who are in middle school have significant gap in reading and mathematics achievement with their non-Hispanic white and Asian student counterparts.5

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.

Educational aspirations of Hispanic youths do not match the level of importance Hispanics place on college, and trail those of all youth:

  • Among Latinos ages 18 to 24, about one-quarter (24%) say they are enrolled in college or graduate school. More than one-third (34%) of all young adults ages 18-24 say the same.