Hispanics Earning Degrees in Record Numbers
By MATTHEW TRESAUGUE
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
AUSTIN - More Hispanics earned degrees and certificates at Texas colleges and universities last year than ever before, but they are still less likely to graduate than their white classmates.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reported Thursday that the number of Hispanics completing undergraduate degree and certificate programs has grown 47 percent since 2000.
Yet officials and education experts want to see more Hispanics earn bachelor's degrees because they represent the state's fastest-growing ethnic group.
"It's good to see the increase," said David Gardner, the coordinating board's assistant commissioner for academic excellence and research, "but it should be higher. The base was low to begin with."
In part, officials attributed the growing number of degrees — 31,091 in fall 2005 compared with 21,087 in fall 2000 — to more Hispanics at colleges and universities across the state. The majority of those students start their post-secondary education at a community college.
Over the past five years, the percentage of Hispanics receiving associate degrees and certificates awarded by two-year colleges has grown twice as fast as the percentage of those earning bachelor's degrees at four-year institutions.
Education and income
The largest jump in bachelor's degrees was made by black students, with a 33 percent increase — one point higher than their Hispanic classmates.
Statewide, white students still continue to graduate in greater numbers. About 60 percent earn a bachelor's degree within six years of starting college, while Hispanics had a graduation rate of 40 percent and blacks roughly 35 percent.
"The increased number of associate degrees (for Hispanics) is great, but the more education the better," said Donald Foss, provost at the University of Houston. "The important thing is to get a bachelor's degree."
The level of education is the best predictor of income, said Steve Murdock, the state's demographer and a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
According to the most recent data, 35 percent of white Texans had a college degree, while less than 9 percent of Latinos had one.
"It's a clear need that our non-Anglo students be competitive," Murdock said.
Opening up options
In another trend, women have accounted for two-thirds of the increase in bachelor's degrees at the state's public universities over the past five years. Black and Hispanic men are the least likely to graduate, according to the coordinating board's data.
Skipping college wasn't an option for Eric Gonzales, a graduate of MacArthur High School, where his father is the baseball coach.
"It was pretty much demanded," said Gonzales, who expects to graduate from UH this spring with an economics degree.
A member of the predominantly Hispanic fraternity Alpha Psi Lambda, Gonzales said he isn't surprised to hear the number of Texas Latinos earning college degrees is climbing.
"Not surprised. Just glad," he said. "I know once I get my degree I'll have career options. I won't be limited and forced to take something I don't want."
To increase the number of graduates at a time of limited resources, Raymund Paredes, the state's higher education commissioner, said universities must be encouraged to offer more classes on weeknights and weekends and in the summer.
He also said the state should consider requiring students to take more classes online and offering more opportunities for work-study programs.