The college graduation rate for Latinos is less than half of the national average and will not improve until they are offered more help as they come up through the education pipeline, according to a report released Friday by the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center.
The study, conducted in 2009, found that only 19.2 percent of Latinos between the ages of 25 and 34 had earned a two- or four-year degree, compared with 41 percent nationally.
To increase Latino college completion, policy makers and educators must, among other steps, improve middle- and high-school counseling, make preschool more available to low-income families, provide additional need-based grant money, and simplify the financial-aid system, the report says.
"Our nation will not become No. 1 again in college completion unless we commit ourselves to giving these students the support they need to achieve their full potential," Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, said in a statement. "This report is a call to action."
The study also contains findings for individual states. California, for example, had the highest Latino population and the worst ratio of students to guidance counselors, reporting an average of 814 students for each counselor.
The study was conducted as part of the College Board's College Completion Agenda, which aims for 55 percent of young adults to hold an associate degree or higher by 2025—an increase of nearly 14 percentage points over the figure for 2008.
"College completion is a national imperative," said Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, where the findings of the report were announced during a national media briefing. "It is the key to improving our nation's economy."
Latino students are the largest minority group in elementary and secondary schools and accounted for more than 39 percent of the total growth of children in the United States, according to the most recent census. They also constitute the largest minority group of 18- to 24-year-olds on college campuses in the country, the Pew Hispanic Center said in a recent report.
A study by the U.S. Department of Education found that, as of 2007, more than 89 percent of Latino children in the United States were born here, which makes the vast majority eligible to attend college and receive financial aid.
"Latinos understand well the importance of higher education," said Delia Pompa, vice president for education at the National Council of La Raza, an advocacy organization for Latinos. "For many, it is the most accessible method to making the American dream a reality."
But parents are often intimidated because of the language barrier from helping their children through the college process, policy and education leaders said during the briefing, so it is important to find ways to get them involved.