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By the Numbers: ACE Report Identifies Educational Barriers for Hispanics



​Statistics about Hispanics—the largest and fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the United States—continue to paint a troubling picture in higher education.

The question of whether the education levels of successive generations of Americans are continually progressing gains new relevance in light of the Obama administration’s goal of regaining the world leadership in postsecondary education attainment. But the United States may not be gaining any ground in this effort. The latest ACE Minority Status Report shows that post-baby boom generations are no better educated than their parents and grandparents, with young Hispanics falling behind the already low educational attainment level of older Hispanics.

The 47 million Hispanics living in the United States are disproportionately foreign-born, representing the nation’s largest immigrant group. Immigrants are especially concentrated among the adult Hispanic population, as 58 percent of those aged 25 to 64 are foreign-born.

Immigrants from a non-Hispanic origin typically have high levels of education. Immigrant adults aged 25 to 64 who are not Hispanic have a much higher rate of holding a postsecondary degree than their U.S.-born peers (see chart). However, Hispanic immigrants are nearly half as likely as U.S.-born Hispanics to hold a postsecondary degree.

Adolescent and adult Hispanic immigrants also are unlikely to be served by traditional educational programs and services because of unique educational barriers they face, as highlighted below:

  • Age at immigration: The majority of Hispanic immigrants arrive in the United States at age 9 or older. Immigrants who receive all or most of their education in American schools perform comparably with those born in the United States. But immigrant youth of Mexican origin who arrived later in their lives are four times as likely to drop out of school as those who arrived early in childhood (33 percent vs. 8 percent).
  • Schooling in country of origin: Immigrants who had schooling problems in their native country are likely either to never enroll or to drop out of school after arrival. Among Hispanic young adults aged 18 to 24 who do not hold a high school credential, 46 percent have never attended a school since arriving in the United States. The likelihood of not being in school while in the United States is shaped by schooling history prior to immigration.
  • Language barrier: Among Hispanic immigrant households, only 4 percent use English as the primary at-home language, compared with 39 percent for U.S.-born Hispanics. Seven of every 10 Hispanic immigrant adults who have less than a high school education do not speak English well, if at all.
  • Pressing economic needs: A high labor participation rate among Hispanic immigrants and employment concentrated in low-skill, low-wage jobs make it more difficult to bear the high opportunity costs associated with pursuing further education, particularly in traditional settings.
  • Legal status: All aforementioned barriers can be even more challenging for unauthorized immigrants, placing them at a particular disadvantage. Unauthorized immigrants have lower education levels and are more likely to work full time in low-skill, low-paying jobs than legal immigrants. As of 2008, about 12 million people in the United States were estimated to be without legal status, making up about 30 percent of the immigrant population.

National polling results consistently show that Hispanics have higher aspirations for postsecondary education than the population in general. But their aspirations have not been matched by results. Recognizing these barriers and understanding their effects are important initial steps in raising the educational attainment of the Hispanic immigrant population specifically, and the Hispanic population in general.

For more information about or to purchase Minorities in Higher Education 2010: Twenty-Fourth Status Report, published with support from the GE Foundation, visit