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California's Latino Graduation Crisis

College graduation rates for Latinos lag far behind, threatening the state's economic future.

Even as the number of Latinos in California rises to nearly four in ten residents, just 12 percent of Latinos in the state have earned a bachelor's degree. That poses a serious problem, argues a new report from The Campaign for College Opportunity, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit.

More and more jobs nationwide require education beyond high school, and California is no exception. "The future of our economy and the state will rise and fall on the educational success of Latinos," says the report.

Roughly half of all foreign-born Latinos in California never graduated from high school. But native-born Latinos--and the vast majority of Latino children in California are native-born--are much more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college than their parents and grandparents were. Still, they don't earn degrees at anything near the same rate as their white and Asian peers. With half of California's children under 18 now coming from Latino backgrounds, policymakers have identified college completion as a key issue to address.

All kinds of obstacles prevent Latino children from heading to college, let alone matriculating at the state's top universities. There's the fact that Latino students are less likely to complete college-preparatory coursework when they're in high school. And the reality that many Latino children grow up in families without college experience--while Latino parents consistently report that they want their children to earn a college degree, they don't necessarily know how to coach their children through the process of college admission the way affluent white parents do.

Perhaps most importantly, college costs keep rising. That creates a huge barrier for low-income Latino students. A year in the University of California system now costs $13,200 for in-state students, on average; a decade ago, tuition and fees were just $5,530, the report says.

Given these rapidly rising costs, it may not be surprising that about two-thirds of Latino college freshman opt for low-cost community colleges--including students with high grades and test scores. But just 39 percent of Latino students who head to community college end up earning a degree or transferring within six years.

The report lays out a number of policy changes that could boost educational attainment, such as making it easier for students to transfer from community colleges to four-year universities. And it recommends asking voters to rethink California's prohibition of the consideration of race and ethnicity in university admissions decisions.

"Improving completion rates for transfer, degrees, and certificates within the California Community College system alone could result in up to 1,150,000 more adults with the skills and education to meet the state's workforce needs," says the report. California's ability to address its Latino college crisis could mean the difference between a struggling future economy for the state, or a robust one.

Next America's Education coverage is made possible in part by a grant from the New Venture Fund.