In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the many contributions Hispanics have made and continue to make to ensure this great nation’s vitality. Hispanics provide a profound and constructive influence on our country through their resilient commitment to family, faith, hard work, and service. They have enriched and wrought our national character with centuries-old traditions that reflect their multiethnic and multicultural customs.
According to the U.S. Census, in 2013 the Hispanic population in the United States reached 54 million, making people of Hispanic origin 17 percent of the nation’s population. Hispanics are the largest, youngest, and fastest growing minority group, and will represent 70 percent of our nation’s population growth between 2015 and 2060. By 2060, they are projected to account for nearly a third of the workforce.
The strength of the American economy is inextricably linked to the strength of the Latino workforce. Education has long been known as a gateway to achievement. Hispanic success in education and in the labor market, therefore, is of immediate and long‐term importance for all of us. In order to meet the future demands of the growing workforce, we must collectively invest in educating this growing population. However, Hispanic students currently face numerous challenges to educational achievement, both at the K-12 and postsecondary levels.
While the dropout rate for Hispanics has been cut in half over the last decade, too many continue to drop out. Of those who do complete high school, many are not sufficiently equipped for college and are at greater risk for remediation than their peers. At the same time, college completion rates for Hispanics remain low and large numbers of Hispanic adults lack the instruction or literacy skills they need to advance their careers. They likewise are less likely to have taken job-or career-related courses, with the exception of basic education classes, such as English as a second language.
As the fastest growing population, the Hispanic community holds the key to the President’s 2020 goal of once again having the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world. Enrollment of minority students in higher education has increased significantly over the past 20 years, up from just 20 percent of all undergraduates in the fall of 1990 to 40 percent in the fall of 2012. Community college enrollment among Hispanics reached a record high and continues to increase. In 2012, the college enrollment rate among 18-to-24-year old Hispanic high school graduates was over 49 percent, up from 31 percent in 2002. Hispanics are currently the largest minority group on college campuses across the nation, representing 17 percent of all college goers. Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) are affording vital education opportunities and play a pivotal role in satisfying our obligation to the rising group of Hispanic visionaries, entrepreneurs, artists, and scholars. HSIs then, where more than half of America’s Hispanic undergraduates attend, are critical to increasing the college enrollment, retention, and graduation rates of this expanding population.
Many Americans, including Hispanic and immigrant populations, lack the skills to access high-wage, high-demand jobs. In October 2013, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and its international partner, the Organization for Economic Cooperation for Development released the results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC). PIACC tested adult skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments to find that despite a relatively high level of educational qualifications, the basic skills of adults in the United States are relatively weak. The findings showed that 36 million, or one in six adults between the ages of 16 and 65, could benefit from improved skills. 43 percent of Hispanic adults have low literacy skills, compared with only 10 percent of whites. The basic skills issue affects the Hispanic community in profound ways, in part given the scarcity of resources in high-need areas.
The demand for jobs in the U.S. that require postsecondary education continues to increase. At current higher education graduation rates, the U.S. has the potential to experience an increasingly large professional skills gap. Given the Hispanic population’s anticipated growth, these two trends reveal a significant need for a multilingual workforce. Many of these graduates will need to come from the multi-cultural, U.S. Hispanic population. The U.S. higher education system must be prepared to meet the dual challenge of increasing graduation rates and supplying more bilingual graduates who will in turn drive our workforce.
Youth’s and adults’ foundation skills impact local, regional, and national competitiveness. Skills are vital components of healthy, safe families and civic engagement, and are the building blocks of economic development and growth. Continued improvements in education achievement for Latinos are critical to ensuring that our youth are academically equipped to meet the challenges of the future.
Because skills matter to many quality-of-life issues, raising Americans’ skill levels and those of our fastest growing population will require a collective commitment. Therefore, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education are partnering to strengthen the nation by expanding educational opportunities, improving educational outcomes for Hispanics of all ages, and by helping to ensure that all Hispanics receive a complete and competitive education that prepares them for college, a career, and productive and satisfying lives. Join us in this vital effort for the immediate and long-term future success of our nation. Together, we can celebrate the progress of the Hispanic community, work to make skills everyone’s business, and help fulfill America’s Future.
Alejandra Ceja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and Johan Uvin is Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education