Texas among states most affected by lag in Hispanic education

As America’s Hispanic population has expanded, the group has had an increasingly larger role in the country’s workforce.

Despite that trend, a new study shows Hispanics are having a more difficult time than other ethnicities in landing better-paying jobs, with the issue being driven by a gap in higher educational attainment. The issue has particular impact in states such as Texas, which has the country’s second-largest Hispanic population and is significantly affected by a high number of foreign-born Hispanics, according to the study.

Titled “Latino Education and Economic Progress,” the report published this week by Georgetown University looks at the broader scope of the Hispanic educational journey, showing that, while Hispanics have made progress toward higher education success, notable gaps remain when compared with other ethnicities, leading to lower overall pay for Hispanic individuals.

“When (Hispanics) go to jobs and go to Fortune 500 companies, the person doing the hiring and people in those positions for those big paying roles, they don’t look like us,” said Luis Rodriguez, CEO at the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “As we continue to overcome our educational downfall, we need to graduate more Hispanics into professional degree services. We can do better.”

When compared with both black and white people, Hispanic residents in the U.S. tend to have lower annual earnings, the study found. Median annual income for individual Hispanics (not households) is $35,000, compared with $52,000 for whites and $40,000 for blacks, the study found.

The income gap can be traced to Hispanics’ lower participation rate in higher education, according to the study. Roughly 21 percent of Hispanics earn a bachelor’s degree and 45 percent attain some postsecondary education, while 32 percent of blacks and 45 percent of whites earn bachelor’s degrees and 66 percent of blacks and 74 percent of whites have some postsecondary education. The postsecondary gap for Hispanics has actually grown since 1992, according to the study.

As a result, Hispanics tend to funnel into lower-paying jobs. And their prospects for earnings are lower than in the past because more jobs require bachelor’s degrees now than in years past. In 1970, for example, workers with high school diplomas or less made up 64 percent of the U.S. above-median-earnings workforce. That number has dropped to 21 percent of the above-median-earnings workforce in 2016, according to the report.

“Latinos are making tremendous progress in the beginning part of their education,” said Megan Fasules, a co-author of the report. “But unfortunately, their rates still lag behind others in overall educational attainment.”

Part of what is holding Hispanics back, the study concludes, is that a higher percentage of the group are first-time college students in their families, meaning their parents are not as familiar with the college enrollment process. More Hispanics than blacks or whites miss college enrollment deadlines, according to the study.

Georgetown used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, American Community Survey and postsecondary data from national education databases such as the Beginning Postsecondary Longitudinal Study and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

The study did not measure statistics for Asians, Fasules said, because the study’s purpose was to compare the Hispanic population with the other two largest U.S. populations and because, like Hispanics, Fasules said, the diversity within the Asian population requires its own report.

Figures for Hispanics are also affected by the significant foreign-born Hispanic population, with the report noting that only 34 percent of foreign-born Hispanics enroll in postsecondary education, compared with 61 percent of U.S.-born Hispanics. Most foreign-born Hispanics work in blue-collar jobs, affecting overall average earnings for Hispanics, according to the report.

Texas experiences a greater impact than most states because of the significant foreign-born population here, Fasules said. Only 38 percent of Hispanics have a postsecondary education in Texas, compared with 71 percent of whites and 62 percent of blacks.

“Foreign-born Latinos tend to have lower educational attainments,” Fasules said, “So, it makes sense that the education gap is bigger and a challenge in Texas.”

There are, however, signs that Hispanics could improve their postsecondary standing, the study found.

Compared with white and black people, Hispanics’ high school graduation rates have improved the most since the 1990s. And first-time Hispanic postsecondary enrollees have also since increased by 250,000, the most of the three groups.

This means Hispanics are catching up to other groups in the earlier stages of their educational journey, Fasules said, with the next step being to overcome postsecondary gaps.

“They are poised to break through the next phase of the educational pipeline and to have better placement in the workforce,” she said.

Plenty of Hispanics show they believe postsecondary education is important, Fasules also said. Hispanics, for example, receive the largest percentage of postsecondary certificates, which are usually recognitions given for completing a small number of postsecondary classes.

And once Hispanics do enroll in college, they are as likely as black people (62 percent) to earn their bachelor’s degrees, though they still lag the white population in that category.

In cities such as Austin, Fasules said, Hispanics have a greater opportunity to be influenced by an educational culture that promotes higher education opportunities. Having Texas’ most prominent public university here helps, she said.

At the University of Texas, the overall graduation rate has increased from 51 percent to about 66 percent in the previous five years, the university recently reported.

To boost Hispanics’ numbers in postsecondary education, local mentorship programs need to get greater emphasis, Austin Hispanic chamber chief Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez cited the Austin nonprofit Con Mi Madre, which educates Hispanic girls and their mothers on the college enrollment process.

“It’s more than just sending someone to campuses to recruit future students. You need to get some engagement and get some of the support of their family,” Rodriguez said. Hispanics “are very family-oriented, and if our parents are not pushing us to go to school, we will lag behind. We need more of these mentorship programs.”

The Hispanic chamber has an education branch that is looking to partner with and support organizations such as Con Mi Madre, Rodriguez said, and the chamber could possibly begin its own program. Establishing a better workforce pipeline for local Hispanics is one of Rodriguez’s most important goals in his chamber role.

“Good education leads to a strong workforce,” he said. “We are more than qualified to do our part.”

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