- A new report from the Education Trust examines degree attainment levels for blacks and Hispanics versus their white peers. It says that overall, gaps between degree attainment levels for Hispanic adults versus their white counterparts have grown since 2000, and Hispanic younger adults do not have much higher attainment levels than older adults — meaning there's not the intergenerational improvement people like to believe there is.
- There are notable differences in Hispanic attainment levels based on nationality and whether the individual migrated to the U.S. or was born here. According to J. Oliver Schak, one of the report's co-authors, a majority of Latino adults age 25 to 64 were born outside of this country; those born inside the U.S. have a degree attainment rate of 30%, compared with 17% for those born outside of the U.S.
- When broken down further, the report shows significant differences in attainment levels based on country of origin. Cubans, who can gain legal residency status easier than Mexicans, for instance, have a degree attainment rate around 40%, compared with 17% for those hailing from Mexico. Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, have a 30% attainment rate, Schak said.
A number of factors account for the differences in degree attainment by nationality. For one, Cuba's system of education — from early childhood through doctorate and beyond — is highly ranked worldwide and free to its citizens. Education funding continues to receive high priority from the nation's government, and Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the developing world. Many who come to the U.S. from Cuba have higher attainment levels, or at least a more solid educational foundation than counterparts from other countries.
Conversely, Mexico's education system is on the lower end of the quality spectrum and hard for citizens to access, and the country's poverty and lack of public investment in education stand as a stark contrast to the Cuban system. It is also more difficult for Mexican immigrants to gain legal U.s. residency status, making it more difficult for them to access federal financial aid and other resources to help them pursue higher education once they arrive in the U.S.
For U.S. leaders, the Education Trust report showcases the importance of disaggregating data to understand the specific needs of populations. Lumping all Hispanic students into one statistical category neither helps the students nor the administrators. For example, the services that institutions in South Florida, which might serve a higher population of Cuban immigrants, would be different than those required by institutions in Texas or California, which may serve higher populations of Mexican immigrants.
But beyond disaggregating by nationality, it is also important to break data down by income, gender and other statistical indicators to identify the actual circumstances that may impact differences in learning, degree attainment and, in medical research, disease propensity. Most automatically assume black and Hispanic students are coming from poor and first-generation households, and while it is true these groups make up a higher percentage of disadvantaged students, failing to break down the data does a disservice to all groups.
Further, when making such broad assumptions, leaders are rendered unable to decide when services needed to be provided to account for income gaps versus where something else might be the issue.