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STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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Education

To minority parents, college is key to children's success

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O?uzhan Abdik / Flickr Creative Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
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Did you go to college after high school and complete a degree? What influenced your decision, either way? 

It turns out that attitudes about the importance of a college education differ between racial and ethnic groups.

Black and Hispanic parents are more likely than white parents to see a college degree as key to their children's success, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

Parents of children under the age of 18 were asked if they felt it was "extremely important" or "very important" for their children to earn a college degree.

Among Hispanic parents, 86 percent said a college degree was important, while 79 percent of black parents felt the same. Comparatively, only about two-thirds (67%) of white parents felt a college degree was important for success.

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Credit Pew Research Center
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What does it take to get ahead?

One possible reason for this disparity: There are differing views on what it takes to climb the economic ladder.

A February 2016 Pew survey found roughly half (49%) of Hispanics and 43 percent of blacks say a college education is a requirement to be part of the middle class, while just 22 percent of white adults say they feel a college education is necessary to climb to the middle class.

Quite frankly, poor people don't have the luxury to question the value of higher education.

That may be because white adults are more likely than Hispanics and blacks to already be in the middle class or higher, according to Pew.

Jose Luis Santos is with The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C. advocacy group for low-income and minority students. He told USA Today that the new data show in a "resounding way" that minority families have high aspirations for their children:

When you have a certain level of income and comfort, you realize two things: 'If I have some financial means, I want my child to go to college, but if my child doesn't ... I have much more social and cultural capital to know that they can succeed in other ways - starting a business - without having a degree...' Quite frankly, poor people don't have the luxury to question the value of higher education.
Perhaps it's not something that we were able to accomplish ourselves, but we want our children to have different opportunities than we had.

Changes in college enrollment trends

A May 2013 Pew analysis found a record seven-in-ten (69%) Hispanic high school graduates in the class of 2012 enrolled in college that fall -- two percentage points higher than the rate of their white counterparts. The positive trends in Hispanic educational indicators extended to high school as well:

It is possible that the rise in high school completion and college enrollment by Latino youths has been driven, at least in part, by their declining fortunes in the job market. Since the onset of the recession at the end of 2007, unemployment among Latinos ages 16 to 24 has gone up seven percentage points, compared with a five percentage point rise among white youths. With jobs harder to find, more Latino youths may have chosen to stay in school longer.

However, while Pew found that more Hispanics and blacks are enrolling in college, they still lag in attending four-year colleges and earning bachelor's degrees:

In 2012, Hispanics accounted for just 9% of young adults (ages 25 to 29) with bachelor's degrees. This gap is driven, in part, by the fact that Hispanics are less likely than whites to enroll in a four-year college, attend a selective college and enroll full-time. In 2012, blacks made up 14 percent of college-aged students (ages 18 to 24), yet just 9 percent of bachelor's degrees earned by young adults.

Juliana Menasce Horowitz is associate director of research at Pew Research Center. She told USA Today in response to positive trends in college enrollment among black and Hispanic students:

It really seems like there's something aspirational there. To me, it makes sense that it's the groups that don't have this high educational attainment that say, 'This is important to our children. Perhaps it's not something that we were able to accomplish ourselves, but we want our children to have different opportunities than we had.'

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