WASHINGTON – The percentage of Hispanic high school and college graduates in Maryland has consistently outpaced the national average, according to U.S. Census data released Thursday.
However, “A Half-Century of Learning: Historical Statistics on Educational Attainment in the United States, 1940 to 2000” shows that the nation’s numbers rose over 20 years, but Maryland’s have dropped.
Almost three-quarters of the Hispanic population in Maryland graduated from high school in 1980, compared to 44 percent nationally. By 2000, though, only 62 percent of Maryland Hispanics had passed the 12th grade.
Although Maryland dropped 10 percentage points over those two decades, the national numbers jumped 8 percentage points.
Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery, said that drop might be attributed to the shift in immigration patterns in Maryland.
Maryland, she said, has been a draw for a highly professional international community because of its proximity to government institutions like the Organization of American States and the World Bank. Those groups tend to have strong education backgrounds, so their children have higher completion rates. But in the 1990s, she said, the state saw an influx of immigrants from Central America who were fleeing natural disasters or civil wars.
“What you’ll see is that students have had to make an incredible adjustment both in language, as well as in learning, and they have not yet been achieving at the same rates as prior immigrations have,” said Gutierrez.
Several advocacy groups agreed that the language and cultural differences have created learning obstacles for many Hispanic immigrants in Maryland.
“They are ill-equipped to pass those classes because many of them don’t have the basic literacy skills to succeed,” said Gabriel Albornoz, deputy director of Maryland Multicultural Youth Center.
Many students will have low literacy rates in their own languages, Albornoz said, which makes it even more difficult to transition into English-based classes.
Also, many Hispanic immigrant students who have successfully navigated high school, drop out when they learn that they will not be able to afford college, he said.
In Maryland, the percentage of Hispanics to graduate from college dropped from 25 percent in 1980 and 1990 to 21 percent in 2000. National figures were even bleaker, showing only 10 percent of Hispanics older than 25 have a bachelor’s degree.
But Jose Ruiz, director of Education-Based Latino Outreach, doubted that the census numbers provided an accurate picture of the Hispanic community.
Many early census takers were not bilingual, he said, and many Hispanic immigrants could be reluctant to provide information to the government.
“You don’t send a total stranger into a community like this because there isn’t that trust,” he said. “If you are going to count this community, you need to send someone who walks, talks and looks like them.”
While the report charts degree attainment since 1940, the Hispanic data starts in 1980 because earlier information was inconsistent. In the first census of education attainment, the categories were only “white” and “nonwhite.”
Gutierrez agreed census data has its flaws, but she saw problems in the way the government agency focuses too much on the wrong demographic data.
“Education is not about race and ethnicity, it’s about class. It’s about being born into the kind of families where one or both parents have college education or where the children have access to good early education programs,” she said.
“We have to turn around the way we are providing education,” Gutierrez said. “Until we do that, we will keep getting the same results that we have been getting.”
– 30 – CNS-4-6-06