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Latinos Lag in College Completion, Report Says

Only 16 percent of Latino adults have an associate's degree or higher — compared to 33 percent of the total working-aged population in Texas. The national average is 38 percent.

State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio speaks to youth group in Austin to advocate for more comprehensive sex education in public schools. March 8th, 2011

Only 16 percent of Latino adults have an associate's degree or higher — compared to 33 percent of the total working-aged population in Texas, according to a report by Excelencia in Education, a Washington D.C-based non-profit organization focused on boosting Latino success in higher education. The national average is 38 percent.

The gloomy statistics were unveiled at a press conference in San Antonio this morning attended by state Rep. Joaquin Castro and representatives of higher education organizations.

"While some in Austin hope to slash education in the name of so-called fiscal responsibility," Castro said in a statement, "the partners assembled here all understand that our future economic success depends on investing in education and finding new ways for all Texans to succeed beyond high school."

As part of its effort to bolster higher education success by 2015, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has made increasing attainment among Hispanics a priority. According to the fact sheet distributed at today's event, the number of Hispanics earning undergraduate degrees increased 7 percent from 2006 to 2008, while other groups increased 4 percent. Over 3 years, among the top 10 states enrolling Latinos, Texas has had one of the largest increases in degrees conferred to that population.

However, disparities remain. "We have to find ways to do better, to do more," said Deborah Santiago, co-founder of Excelencia in Education. Santiago's organization has also been spreading this message in states like Florida and Pennsylvania as part of a national initiative called "Ensuring America's Future by Increasing Latino College Completion," which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education, and the Kresge Foundation.

Heeding that call, at the press conference, ACT, Inc. — best known for its college entrance exam — announced a new project called "Graduation Texas," which will focus on focus on providing early identification and counseling to first-generation college freshmen.

"We know that identifying students during their freshman year and counseling them effectively will put them on the path to college completion," Karen Pennell, ACT assistant vice president and regional manager, said in a statement.

Today's press conference also identified some examples of practices that seem to work for boosting Latino success rates, including dual enrollment programs for high school students at the University of Texas-Brownsville and the Model Institutions for Excellence program at the University of Texas-El Paso.

Other organizations partnering with Santiago's organization and the initiative include the University of Texas System, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and the Intercultural Development Research Association.

"While a small group of organizations are committing to doing more, I don't believe they can do it alone," Santiago said. "But I do know they are stepping forward and being vocal about their commitment to being part of the solution."

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