Hispanic students today represent nearly 42 percent of total enrollment in our K-12 system. By 2035, the U.S Census estimates that a majority of Arizona will be Hispanic.
Yet Hispanic students are less likely than the general population to enroll in either college or graduate school. While 50 percent of Arizona’s high-school students pursue post-secondary education, only 44 percent of Hispanic students pursue a college education. Even more startling, only 10 percent of Hispanic students who enroll in our public universities will earn a degree. This is alarming, given that two-thirds of all jobs by 2018 will require a post-secondary education.
With this realization, we are making strides, yet still have a long way to go. For example, in the Arizona high school graduating class of 2005-06, only 5.3 percent of Hispanic students went on to graduate from two-year institutions after six years and 8.3 percent of Hispanic students graduated from four-year institutions. Two years later, the comparable figures are 6.7 percent and 10 percent. This is growth, but it is not enough.
Where do we start? It starts by facing the facts: Arizona ranks 40th in the nation for our college-going rate. Of the roughly 59,000 high school graduates, 24,000 are Hispanic. Unfortunately, fifty three percent of our Hispanic students do not qualify for admission into Arizona’s public universities often because they have not satisfactorily completed core courses for admission or may have grade point averages that do not qualify them for admission. Until Hispanic students have the same rate of educational success as the general population, we face a real threat to Arizona’s overall economic health.
We need not search far for the answer as to why these students are struggling. Sadly, poverty is a reality for many Hispanic families. We know that the single biggest predictor of their educational success is family income. Among Hispanics in Arizona, 29 percent live in families below the poverty level, while that number is about 18 percent for Arizonans as a whole.
And for those Hispanics who do live in poverty, about 46 percent are under the age of 18. Think about that for a moment: Children represent almost half of Arizona’s Hispanic population affected by poverty.
These children are the future of our workforce. They are bicultural and bilingual, both of which are tremendous assets for businesses looking for a diverse and talented pipeline.
How do we foster greater success?
Increasing college affordability is a must. Creation of a more robust, needs-based financial aid system in the state is a priority. A great example is the Arizona Earn to Learn program supported by the Board of Regents and in partnership with the Tucson Hispanic Chamber. (www.AZEarntoLearn.org)
We must build a stronger college-going culture in Arizona. It begins with parents talking to their children, with teachers building the message in the classroom, and it requires the help of business, philanthropic and community leaders as role models making their collective voices heard to enforce a message of the importance of a college-going culture.
Student retention is imperative. Students who set foot on our campuses encounter all kinds of challenges, from financial to personal, that impact their success as students. Our universities have developed strategic retention tools to predict and foster student success, and a vast array of outreach programs are in place to also assist students.
The Arizona Board of Regents and community partners like the Tucson Hispanic Chamber are committed to driving solutions for these challenges. It also requires collective commitment – from parents, educators, business leaders and our policy makers – to ensure every student – regardless of socio economic status – can access higher education and realize their personal and professional potential. The economic future of our state is dependent on the academic success of our Hispanic students.