By Hans Johnson, associate director and senior fellow, and Joseph Hayes, research associate, Public Policy Institute of California
This opinion article appeared in the Riverside Press-Enterprise on May 24, 2008
The fortunes of the Inland Empire depend heavily on the contributions of Latinos, who already constitute the region's largest racial/ethnic group and are poised to become a majority by 2015. Educational achievement will be crucial to the success of these contributions.
The story so far is one of remarkable progress and enormous challenge. Latinos are making impressive educational gains. Projections in a report released recently by the Public Policy Institute of California show that the share of Latino adults ages 25 to 64 with a high school diploma will grow from 56 percent in 2005 to 61 percent in 2015, and the share with a college degree will grow from 8 percent to 10 percent.
The results are especially noteworthy across generations: In California, only 25 percent of immigrant Latinos have graduated from high school, compared to 75 percent of their U.S.-born children. And while only 3 percent of Latino immigrants have a college degree, 12 percent of their children hold at least a bachelor's degree.
But Latinos' educational attainment still falls short compared with that of Inland Empire residents overall, and more important, short of what the economy will likely demand. Our projections suggest that by 2015, 82 percent of the region's jobs will require at least a high school diploma, and 20 percent will require a bachelor's degree.
More and faster progress is necessary if Latinos are going to participate fully in the region's economy, both creating and taking advantage of jobs that require higher levels of education.
Even more than other ethnic groups in the state, Latinos recognize the value of higher education. According to a Public Policy Institute of California statewide survey, 79 percent of Latinos (compared to 55 percent of whites) agree that a college education is necessary for success in the workplace.
But many Latino parents are daunted by the cost of higher education, with three in five saying it is a big problem. Also, many have low levels of education. In the Inland Empire, 38 percent of Latino parents have not finished high school, and many speak only limited English.
Parents with less experience in the educational system are less prepared to help their children -- whether it is assisting with homework, choosing the high school courses required for acceptance at a college or university, or identifying sources of financial aid.
Furthermore, Latinos are underrepresented among the region's voters, making up only about one in four registered voters. Even as this figure improves to one in three by 2015, decisions about school boards and school bonds will largely be made by other voters who are less likely to have children in the schools.
However, community colleges will continue to play an essential role in the Latino community, representing the most important portal into higher education for Latinos: 77 percent of Latino college students in the Inland Empire attend community college. But even here, more work needs to be done -- transfer rates into four-year universities are low. But a four-year degree is not the only key to success. Our projections suggest that a majority of jobs in the Inland Empire will require a high school diploma or some college coursework.
This underscores the need to improve high school graduation rates: Prospects for improving one's income are good if one has a high school diploma and some vocational training or an associate's degree.
Successful efforts to improve Latinos' educational attainment can have far-reaching effects. A better-educated population means greater regional competitiveness and improved employment opportunities for everyone, as educated workers create new firms and employers are drawn to a highly skilled work force.